I’m going to stop using so many words (as I am well aware of their soporific powers) and try to be brief. I am also including a ton of links, so hang on tight!
During our last conversation, Martha brought up a point about art that comes from other places and cultures that we may or may not understand. I wanted to try to explain how members of the committee (and reviewers, too) might try to bridge that gap between what they already know and what they must learn. When I served on the Caldecott committee, my chair exhorted us to examine ourselves when we did not care for a particular style of art. We were never allowed to dismiss things with throwaway phrases like, “I have never liked his art…not my cup of tea…”
Here we have a book from a Mexican American illustrator who takes his influence from pre-Columbian codices. I found this out by googling the illustrator, who was interviewed by Julie Danielson on her Seven Impossible Things blog and in her Kirkus column. For those of you (like me) whose head just spun a tiny bit because the word codex drew a big fat blank, here is some background on codices.
A person on the committee would, I know, want to know a few things about the book and its creator. First, I know that I cannot read a book without knowing how to pronounce the author’s name, so I would run to Teachingbooks.net for that help. Right here. Then I would do a little happy dance because the publisher tells me (on the copyright page) that the illustrations are “hand-drawn and then collaged and colored digitally,” so I don’t have to figure that part out. Further internet digging revealed this, a movie showing the how the illustrator was inspired, with examples of codices and everything! I love finding out more about how the art was made, and YouTube comes to the rescue with this demonstration of how Tonatiuh digitally colors his work. I hope you are impressed by my mad internet skills; this from someone who has never read an e-book in her life!
The next step I would take if I were on the committee would be to show the book to someone familiar with Sylvia Mendez’s story. Because the back matter is substantial, I would dig through that. I would hope that someone on the committee would be from the Southwest, so that person could speak to how the colors and details of the art square with the setting.
On the committee, all this information would become part of the conversation about the book. If anyone wondered about the unusually static forms, someone would explain that she researched this and that the characters are all shown in profile because they are inspired by pre-Columbian art. The ears are shaped like the number 3 for the same reason. (Then people would decide if this approach worked or not. If no one is buying it, the defender of the book should have lots more evidence of excellence, or that sound you hear would be the sound of the book sliding off the table. But I digress.) Since the story is about one family’s search for equality of education in California, the style is perfect to tell the story (see the criterion “appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept”). The committee would then have to ask the questions it always asks: Is the art distinguished? Is it for a child? Do the pictures advance the story? Is the art excellent throughout? Does the digital art work to make the art feel modern, or does it detract?
But, no matter, if the book was nominated, someone would do a boatload of research to make her case for the book.