On Tuesday Robin took a second look at Journey and Mr. Wuffles!; today I am grouping another two books with, perhaps, little in common except their excellence, their top-notch production values, their presence on many mock Caldecott winning ballots—and the distinct possibility that they’ll find a place on the real Caldecott table in Philadelphia.
Can we first just ooh and ahh a bit over the bookmaking? Clearly, much care and thought has been put into Peter Brown’s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and Brian Floca’s Locomotive. Both have such a nice heft when you pick them up; both have high-quality paper and paper jackets; both have imaginatively different and very effective covers underneath. Locomotive, poignantly, shows the plains BEFORE the locomotive came along to change everything, a landscape simply teeming with bison; Mr. Tiger Goes Wild reveals a playful and striking pattern of closeup tiger stripes (and check out those ridges—extra fun). Both use the endpapers to great effect. Both are solidly constructed, with the signatures sewn in to the bindings, not glued in.
Well, I could wallow in these kinds of details all day, but…tick tock.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is everything a story picture book should be. It has pacing, humor, and something to say. Plot, theme, and artistic interpretation and development of same—all are coherent and of a piece. The verticals and rectangles and browns and lockstep behavior of the opening pages are unrelenting – except for the ORANGE of Mr. Tiger. Even unhappy, he is orange. There is hope. Then comes the double-page spread – “And then one day / Mr. Tiger had / a very / wild idea” – where four images of Mr. Tiger sink progressively lower and lower across the page, his eyes looking left, then right, then up, then … DOWN – to the glorious page turn where we see Mr. Tiger on all fours for the first time. And from here it’s all forward propulsion – compositions and action that take our own eyes from left to right: across town, across the fountain, and into the wilderness. First alone, and then with friends. What could be better? And what a magnificent book.
One element Mr. Tiger has in common with Locomotive are the page turns. Both books use this crucial component of the picture book form expertly, controlling the pacing and propelling readers forward through the book (and, conversely, they know how to keep readers dwelling on a page when something really important is being communicated: see the “Now Mr. Tiger felt free to be himself” page, for instance, where the tiger’s outward gaze holds our own and makes us linger).
I would argue that no book this year does page turns better than Locomotive. Whether it’s the angle of the track or the anticipation on a character’s face or the placement of the text—Floca’s use of page turns powers this book the way the train’s engine propels it across the Plains. (I went into greater detail about it here.) Beyond the genius of the page turns, Locomotive is simply spectacular. I think Julie Danielson summed up Locomotive best when she noted its combination of epic and intimate — with Floca telling the epic story of the American transcontinental railroad AND the personal story of one family’s journey, all in one cohesive picture book. While Mr. Tiger’s art uses stylized geometrical shapes that suit that book’s playfulness, Locomotive employs aptly realistic illustrations that suit the topic. But it doesn’t stop there. It augments the art, using typefaces to emphasize the book’s epic quality (those large, over-the-top sound-effect typefaces) and its intimate quality (the smaller, handwritten location IDs).
Of course, these books aren’t perfect. I’ve heard criticism of things getting lost in the gutter in Mr. Tiger. I don’t see it. Every time an object is cut in two by the gutter, it’s always right down the center, and there is ALWAYS enough bulk in the divided object (elephant, Tiger, building, tree) that nothing is actually “lost.”
As to Locomotive, yes, those typefaces are loud and attention-getting. But to my mind they are never gratuitous, and they are carefully placed within the book design. As to the idea that, although the train is supposed to be traveling from east to west, often it passes from left to right in the book — doesn’t that depend on the viewer’s perspective? If you are standing on the north side of the tracks, for instance, a train traveling from left to right IS traveling west. (And notice that Floca is careful to place his traveling family on such a platform.)
Close scrutiny is the name of the game in Caldecott deliberations. I feel confident that these two books can survive it. As well, of course, as so many other worthy titles this year: Nino Wrestles the World, On a Beam of Light, Have You Seen My New Blue Socks?, The Mighty Lalouche, Building Our House … too many to name here. Good luck to all the books on the Caldecott table this year!
We’re just about to head into our own voting. Please, use this opportunity to talk about your own favorite picture books of 2013 in the comments below. Who knows, you may sway someone’s opinion and change his/her vote — just as a persuasive member of the Caldecott committee might change the opinion of her/his fellows.