Let’s get the hard stuff out of the way at the beginning: I am not 100% sure this book is eligible for Caldecott. Yes, it’s published by an American press in the United States, and the illustrator is American. One of the authors (Bethany Hegedus) is American, and the other (Arun Gandhi) lives in Rochester, NY, according to the flap copy. I cannot find a reference to his citizenship on his website or on other websites. That means the book is most likely eligible. I think.
Here are the most common questions that crop up when members of the committee are checking eligibility: actual publication date vs. copyright date (especially confusing if a book comes out late in December or early in January); residency or nationality of the creator; whether some of the book has been previously published in another format. If there is any question, the chair asks ALSC to vet the book. Books are vetted through ALSC, and (AS FAR AS I KNOW) a book is either deemed eligible or it is not. That information becomes part of the confidentiality agreement of the committee. I think that’s how it works. (People who know better, chime in!)
That means, when random folks state that a book is or is not eligible, folks might be right. Or wrong. For all we know, we could be yakking about books that are not even eligible. Or we might think a book is not eligible when it actually is. The committee will not be talking.
But, back to Grandfather Gandhi: because the book was published in the United States and the illustrator is American, I assume the book is eligible for Caldecott consideration. I was pretty excited when I read KT Horning’s Horn Book review way back in the spring. Her description of the art made my fibers-loving heart beat faster. She wrote, “The graceful narrative is nearly outdone by the vivid mixed-media illustrations, rendered in watercolor, paper collage, cotton fabric, cotton yarn, gouache, pencil, tea and tinfoil.” Even the yarn is spun on an Indian book charkha (one of the earliest types of spinning wheels). Yup. Yarn. I love yarn.
Spinning wheels fill the endpapers, and that handspun cotton is on the first page, resting in Bapu’s (Gandhi’s) knobby hands. And that cotton, in various forms, shows up on many pages — in a large bale of cotton, on Gandhi’s own charkha, in cloth, growing in fields, even as Bapu’s mustache. In other places, other string makes an appearance, the most memorable being black string in a ragged tangle to symbolize Arun’s frustrated fidgeting at early morning prayers and during a soccer game where he feels wronged and grabs a rock in frustration. (And later, those black tangles show up as Arun’s written schoolwork.)
Shadows play into many of the spreads, forcing the reader’s eye to slow down and consider the whole composition. Imagine that a child is thumbing through the book. She or he will just have to stop, read the words, and figure out why the shadow of a cowboy is growing out of Arun’s back. It’s a provocative illustration, but it is exactly the right image for daydreaming Arun. I love the cover image where Arun is walking on the road toward the sun with his grandfather, each with an arm or two behind his back, shadows engulfing much of the path. Interesting shadows of workers, animals, folks in the market, and people meditating draw the eye to the whole page and encourage close inspection of each spread.
Beyond the repeated shadow motif, Turk includes spindles in many of the spreads as a symbol of both the grandfather and for balance in life. So, whether Grandfather is spinning a tale comparing electricity to anger or is actually spinning cotton into thread, the reader has those spinning images to hold onto. Cut-paper abstract images further deepen the emotional pull of the illustrations.
This is a story that holds true to the child’s perspective — a child who is jealous of other people’s pull on his grandfather’s attention, frustrated with his schoolwork, and embarrassed at his inability to control his anger. It’s also a heartfelt introduction to the life of Mahatma Gandhi.
Even if this one does not end up with a shiny sticker on it — and I know it’s a long shot — I hope you will take a second look at it and let us know what you think.