Let’s talk about Parrots over Puerto Rico today — written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore and illustrated with lush, amazingly detailed fabric and paper collages by Roth. Published by Lee & Low, this nonfiction picture book relates the history of the Puerto Rican parrot (Amazona vittata) from 5000 BCE through today; from thriving community to near extinction to possible recovery.
It’s an unusual book right from the get-go: the cover. (Note: we only have f&gs in the office, no hardcover yet, so all my comments pertain to the unfinished book.) The only words on the cover AT ALL are on the spine; the front jacket just shows…parrots, in bright blues and greens highlighted with a few touches of red (near the birds’ beaks). The colors of the paper are augmented by creamy white and black fabric for eyes and beaks. That’s one notable element (although we’ve seen more wordless jackets in the past several years). The other much more unusual element is that the entire picture book is presented in vertical spreads: the reader turns the book sideways from the very beginning, with everything–page layout; flap copy, main text, back matter–following in that vertical dimension.
Roth’s art is gorgeous. Maybe beyond gorgeous. It’s the kind of art where you take in the whole picture–parrots flying over an uninhabited shoreline; a cascading waterfall; parrots and trees being buffeted by a hurricane–and then stay looking at the picture to figure out how she achieved her effects. Where she used paper, where she used fabric; how the myriad details add up to a whole. The waterfall page is a tour de force, but I think I appreciate even more the hurricane page: how did she show WIND!?!
The book may present one challenge to readers, and that is page turns. Do they work the same when the pages turn vertically? Do they propel you through the book in the same way? I think our (western) brains may be so programmed to want to proceed from left to right that the vertical layout may be difficult for some. For me, it just took a little time spent with the book to catch its rhythm.
In any case, here’s a book from a smaller, independent publisher that would seem to deserve close inspection and consideration from the Caldecott committee. Your thoughts?