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Frank and Lucky Get Schooled

perkins_frank and lucky get schooledIn many of the books we look at for this blog, the illustrator has created virtuosic art that looks as if it required a lot of time and skill. Perkins, on the other hand, makes it look easy.

As far as I can tell, all of Lynne Rae Perkins’s work has a feeling of improvisation and spontaneity, as if anything could happen at any time. She reminds me of Hilary McKay in that her books don’t have the noticeable connective tissue I’m used to seeing when I read critically. We follow where she leads because the journey is so interesting. Somewhere near the end we realize that everything has actually been carefully planned.

Perkins’s books truly are tightly crafted, with art and text honed down to the essentials, like a sentence by E. B. White. The book begins, “One day when Frank could not win for losing, he got Lucky. And one day when Lucky was lost and found, he got Frank.” The illustrations leading up to this spread extend these statements, allowing us to see exactly how bad their respective days were. As the book continues, Perkins uses the school device referred to in the title: as boy and dog play together, they learn geography, history, math, science, etc. It all feels like play, but we learn plenty of interesting facts. The text delivery varies, including direct address, multiple choice, and frequent use of thought- and dialogue balloons that extend the story, particularly where Lucky’s worldview is concerned.

Perkins’s art here is similar to that in her previous books. Interiors are ultra-cozy, with deep colors and wide shadows where the white text can contrast comfortably with the background. Exteriors use a surprisingly vibrant palette that indicates how much both Frank and Lucky prefer the outdoors. I especially like the way the artist incorporates check boxes, dotted lines, and other workbook-like elements right into her art. When Lucky encounters a skunk, there is a chemistry opportunity: what will counteract the skunky “smell molecules”? Shampoo? Baking soda? Tomato juice? At night, Lucky takes up varying portions of Frank’s bed, shown with clear geometry diagrams.

Every lesson is humorous and perfectly attuned to its central characters. I especially love the moments when Perkins takes a new, unexpected turn. Lucky’s thoughts have been appearing in cloudlike thought balloons from the start, while Frank and other humans have dialogue balloons showing actual speech. Suddenly, halfway through the book, we find that Frank is able to read some of Lucky’s thoughts. But of course! There’s also the appearance of a snail who has an unexpected cameo — a speaking part, no less, as we learn a little of its history and the (ubiquitous) Fibonacci sequence.

Over at Heavy Medal this week, they are discussing this book as a Newbery contender (although they are tripped up by some clunky Spanish usage when Frank meets a new neighbor who helps him find Lucky, who has a tendency to chase ducks). Perkins won the 2006 Newbery Medal for Criss Cross, though she has created more picture books than novels. Is this her year for a Caldecott?

I’m afraid I think it’s a long shot, mainly because the award tends to go to books with flashier art. But as far as I’m concerned, that holy grail of picture books — perfect pairing of text and art — doesn’t get any better than this. Maybe an honor book? Or maybe there are enough dog lovers on this year’s committee to allow them to give it real chance. Stranger things have happened.

 

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.

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  1. “But as far as I’m concerned, that holy grail of picture books — perfect pairing of text and art — doesn’t get any better than this”

    Hmmm. I have not yet laid eyes on this particular picture book (and Caldecott and Newbery hybrid), but I will remedy that pronto after reading through this wonderful and enthusiastic literary scholarship. I do know Perkins’ work quite well otherwise though and completely agree with you on the matter of “improvisation and spontaneity”. I can well understand the difficulty in pigeon-holing this book or any other for either of the awards when it offers terrific qualities in each department. I am having the same problem with the beautiful and deeply moving “The Tree in the Courtyard” by Jeff Gottesfeld, with illustrations by the Caldecott Honor winning Peter McCarty. The latter’s sepia toned work is wholly exquisite and Caldecott worthy, but is more than equaled by the aching lyricism in Gottesfeld’s poetic prose. But we had last year’s surprise and William Blake’s Inn a few decades back, so I understand anything can happen. But your sizing this up as one of those “holy grails of picture books” says it all here.

  2. Post-script to my earlier comment: I have obtained a copy of the book from a local library, and just read through it. I really love it, and will present to my students tomorrow. It doesn’t hurt either that 85% of the classes are Hispanic, and I really like that aspect in the world languages section.

    I also must concur with your summary judgment, that this is even more persuasive for a Caldecott.

  3. This is an absolutely wonderful book. The text and art work so well together and the coverage of subjects Frank and Lucky get schooled in is amazing. There is heart, humor, and learning all wrapped up together. Its a beautiful package. And i agree it should be considered for both a Newbery and a Caldecott.

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