On Wednesday, Martha posted about Sergio Ruzzier’s Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? (written by Eve Bunting). Ruzzier has another book getting some award buzzzz this year: Bear and Bee.
Ruzzier’s pen-and-ink line is distinctively his: simultaneously elegant and casual, they add a sense of motion, even to basic horizon lines. His playful, shaky lines breathe life into the art while the digital colors he adds later are calmly flat. His faces are simple but expressive with eyebrows that make the most of his wobbly lines.
The plot: Bear wakes up after his winter hibernation, looking for something to eat. A bee pops up behind a tempting beehive and offers him some honey. He demurs because he is afraid of bees — even though he has never seen one. Bear believes bees are big and scary with large teeth and sharp claws. Bee points out that Bear has described himself, leading Bear to fear that he is a bee. When Bee reveals himself (or herself?) and again offers honey, all is tidily resolved. The clear moral about prejudice and false assumptions will probably please adults looking for easy messages, but it feels a tad preachy to me.
I love the way Ruzzier draws and animates the two characters in this book: innocent Bear, large and bumbling; savvy Bee, small (but larger than nature) and energetic. Both are unclothed except for their shoes: Birkenstock-like red sandals for Bear and zippy high-tops for Bee. Perfect.
The outdoor setting keeps things simple. There’s green grass below and blue sky above, with just enough vegetation to add interest without overwhelming the characters. Compared to the satisfying clutter in Have You Seen My New Blue Socks?, this art might seem too clean or even sparse to be called “distinguished,” but consider the audience and the focus. In Socks, visual misdirection is necessary for the plot. If Bear and Bee had more clutter, it would take focus away from the main characters and their conversation.
Can books this simple win the Caldecott? Do you think the prominent message helps or hurts Bear and Bee’s chances?
During deliberations, the Caldecott committee is not supposed to compare an illustrator’s books to his or her previous titles, except when those books are published in the same year and are both eligible. Last year, Jon Klassen was honored for two books, but that’s rare. It’s more likely that the committee will be looking at Ruzzier’s books side by side and deciding which is more award-worthy. Is it fair to compare these two? Or is it too much like comparing apples and oranges?