Robin and I have been figuring out how to finish things up here with some last-minute posts before the vote. Weirdly, we find that the three books we MOST want to discuss in the next two days are all about real people and have the word “Dream” in the title. I know this sounds like some kind of gimmick, but I swear we didn’t plan it that way!
I’ve been a fan of Kadir Nelson’s work ever since I saw Big Jabe in 2000. I loved his combination of sketchy outline and painterly, atmospheric light. Clearly, this guy knew his figure drawing, but he was also willing to distort his characters in the interest of moving the story forward and conveying emotion.
When his subsequent books moved toward a more realistic style, I worried he would lose me. I’m not very tolerant of illustration that looks as if it’s heavily based on photos. Too often the result is accuracy at any cost, sacrificing a sense of immediacy. When photos are used as reference for a scene showing two characters interacting, the emotional connection between them on the page tends to be blurred or even severed.
To my eye, Kadir Nelson has never fallen into this trap. Each face he draws manages to show someone at a precise moment in time with hidden but almost-revealed thoughts behind the eyes. I have learned to relax and trust him, no matter how realistic his paintings get.
I SO want Kadir Nelson to win a Caldecott Medal, but I want it to be for a book that truly shows why he is so great. I Have a Dream has stunning paintings, but it’s so monumental and necessarily hagiographic that it doesn’t allow him show off his ability to play with character and have some fun.
Am I being stingy here? I think this book will live a long life with or without an award, as it should. But I want Nelson’s Caldecott, which I firmly believe WILL happen one of these days, to be for something a little different.