So, enough people have mentioned Island: A Story of the Galápagos that I thought I would do a little exercise with you. Many people wonder how the real committee members look at all the books they have to consider. I have no idea how others deal with this, but I have a little procedure.
First, I just look at the pictures.
So, I begin. I like these endpages a lot, filled with little framed beige and brown illustrations of the species of the Galápagos, some of which are starred as being endemic to the islands. It’s not just animals either; there are cacti and trees and ferns alongside the expected giant tortoise and iguanas. The title page is filled with blue and green with a dandy bird’s-eye view of an erupting black volcano. Puffy clouds of volcano smoke mix with white clouds. Inviting. The stark white dedication/copyright page sets off the first page, which is titled with what looks to be hand-lettering. Nice. A couple of things strike me as I slowly pore over the illustrations: Chin employs small frames to tell this story in many places, allowing him to deepen the story. We see volcanic islands forming, seeds growing, birds arriving, and iguana discovering a new place to live. No words are needed as I read through the visual information. I can see the island grow and shrink, sustain life, and become drier. I especially love the sequences that show animals changing to adapt to the changes in the island. The death of the little finch is honestly shown. I was kind of sad to see the humans (Darwin and his crew) arrive because Chin’s illustrations of flora and fauna are so compelling.
Next, I hold the book far from my body and see how the book might look if a person read it aloud to a group. This is a bit embarrassing if anyone is around, so I wait for my husband to go shopping. I often read the book aloud at this point, just for fun. In this case, I am worried about those pages with sixteen framed pictures. But, when I stand about eight feet away, I can still see the birds flying in the storm, the sea lions looking for home.
Three pages of backmatter about Darwin, endemic species and island formation follow, along with an author’s note and the names of the scientists who assisted him with his research.
After I look at the illustrations I read the whole book properly.
I need to see if the text takes away from the illustrations (it does not), and I check if the illustrations extend the text or are simply redundant. This just-drawing-exactly-what-the-text-says problem is where many books fall apart for me. These little framed illustrations definitely tell the story, but they go way beyond the words. Chin mentions that some cormorants are lost at sea. The tiny picture shows the drama of a lightning storm, the desperate search for a home and the eventual home on the island. The colors on the drying and drought pages show the change from green to brown. I like how he uses illustrations to show ideas that might be a challenge to put into words (i.e., a bird dying because it cannot eat the large nuts, the adapting of the tortoise…).
This is a pretty special book, filled with science and emotion, beautiful illustrations and the kind of design that encourages the reader to slow down. Perfect for budding scientists. It made me want to take a trip to the Galápagos myself.
I am pretty sure the committee will be talking about this one.