Here is where I confess–I chose this book before I had even seen it, based completely on the rave reviews it was getting from friends and in the press. This happened a few months ago and this reminded me of why I thought, “I think we will have to talk about hello! hello!”
When Julie Danielson, in her blog, called Matthew Cordell the new William Steig, I had to pause. I am a huge fan of Steig and was not willing to pass the torch to Cordell or anyone else for that matter. But still, I see where she is coming from. These simple lines, this bursts of color, this calm design reminds me of Stieg, too. I can’t see Steig writing something that is so overtly a lesson, but Steig did not live in these technological times. He did not live to see his great grandchildren (I assume he has some) reach for a phone or a device and “turn” the pages with a flick of a finger. He didn’t see parents turn away from children and dive deeply into their own screens. (I will stop here as I feel a full-fledged rant coming on.)
SO, let’s turn to the book, shall we? The cover shows a lively, redhead running, running away from the electronic toys and toward a leaf. (so, this is fiction, right?) The brilliant blue of the cover highlights the contrasting yellow of the title. And , because I always check the inside cover, let’s do that. Oooh. Same girl, same stance, now in a field with flowers and trees and birds and a bright yellow sun. And she is still running like crazy. Five pages precede the title page, setting the stage. This little girl is bored with her devices. She wants more. The next few spreads tell the story with their design alone: She is on the far left, in the corner, far from the people she is saying “hello” to. The text looks like an LED display on an alarm clock. Mom is busy typing on the computer…turn the page…and dad is texting…and even baby Bob is playing with his tablet. “Sigh” indeed. The leaf blows through the open door, beckoning our little girl out of the sterile house and into the outdoors. Her first (barefoot) steps are easy to understand. The leaves are blowing and her eyes, obviously unused to the wind, are squinched close. The text now is handwritten. Her eyes begin to open when she says hello to a leaf and are wide open when she sees a horse! By this time, the spread has no white anywhere and is filled with the joy of outside life. Lydia, for that is her name, rides the horse bareback and is joined by all manner of creatures, many from her imagination, which has been jarred into life by the natural world. Dinosaurs and blue whales run with her until the tiny word RING flies from the pocket of her dress. Getting louder, it stops the horse. The color instantly vanishes and is replaced by white space and two speech bubbles from her frantic parents. (One imagines their fear, “Where is she? OUTSIDE?”) The grey world inside the house greets Lydia until she makes some excellent trades: the contents of her pocket for the laptop, phone and tablet. The family returns to the colorful outdoors, each riding an animal. Not a beep or a buzz to be heard anywhere.
Did you get all that?
Somehow Cordell told the whole story of modern “connected” family life with gentle bamboo pen, hand colored with water color. There are very few words–all the story is in the pictures. How will the committee be able to decide which books are truly distinguished? How do you think they compare the simple lines of a book like this with the lush detailing of former winners Pinkney, Steptoe, Sendak and Burkert? What do you think makes this–or any of the book truly distinguished?
Yes, there is a lesson here. But, I did not find it overwhelming. As a matter of fact, I found it refreshingly low on blame and high on solution. Get outside. Connect with the ones you love.
It’s here that I have to (very reluctantly) mention a flaw in the bookmaking. Those white white pages allow the text from the next pages to shadow through in places, creating a bit of a distraction. On one page (the RING RING RING page) I kind of liked it as the reader can see the speech bubbles of Mom and Dad through the page. However, in other places, the shadows are just shadows. I really do not think the committee will be as distracted as I am by things like this, but I feel I have to mention it.