The Horn Book » Calling Caldecott http://www.hbook.com Publications about books for children and young adults Thu, 23 Oct 2014 20:03:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.4 Getting to know you http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/getting-know/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/getting-know/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:00:06 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=42089 One of the perks of my job here at the Horn Book — and I suspect for any of you working in publishing — is meeting and sometimes really getting to know some of my favorite illustrators and authors. Often, committee members attend dinners and other events featuring some of what may be their favorite authors […]

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One of the perks of my job here at the Horn Book — and I suspect for any of you working in publishing — is meeting and sometimes really getting to know some of my favorite illustrators and authors. Often, committee members attend dinners and other events featuring some of what may be their favorite authors and illustrators. So, what does this do to our critical abilities when we need to evaluate books created by these same people?

mavor sutton 2011 550x411 Getting to know you

Salley Mavor visited the Horn Book office and joined us for lunch in 2011 when she delivered the art for her January 2012 cover.

One experienced and respected critic I know makes a point of never meeting book creators because she doesn’t want to fall into the potential trap of being soft on someone in order to not hurt their feelings. Or, I suspect, of seeming to be soft on someone because she knows them.

I don’t feel that way, but I admit it has made things tough sometimes. When I was younger and more concerned about what people thought of me, I would occasionally opt out of reviewing a book by someone I had met and admired, but whose current offering seemed to fall short. Now I just suck it up and do my job. I’m guessing a few people have “unfriended” me over this, but frankly I am not much of a Facebooker, so ignorance is bliss.

The flip side of this is something that all publishing marketing departments know well: getting to know an illustrator and learning more about their process pretty much always results in us appreciating their work even more. We have a better understanding of their medium and their process, as well as the seriousness and commitment they bring to each new book. What’s not to love?

But this doesn’t mean that their books are better than those by people we haven’t met, and whose process or medium we don’t know as well. I remember when the first Knuffle Bunny book came out. Hyperion wisely realized that people might mistakenly believe that Mo Willems’s photograph backgrounds indicated that he had taken a shortcut to save time. So they had him in their booth giving demonstrations of how he created the art: all the Photoshopping required to get rid of trash cans, logos, and other detritus of Brooklyn streets that he didn’t want upstaging the main action in the foreground. I was on the Caldecott committee that year, so I really can’t elaborate except to say that it worked.

When Linda posted that great video of Yuyi Morales explaining her process when creating Viva Frida, I felt that a similar kind of education was going on. Of course there were going to be questions about her process. Most of us understand watercolors, gouache, oils, even collage. But throw something like this at us — puppets, metalwork, carpentry, set design, photography by someone else — and our lack of experience may go either way. We could be overly awed or skeptical. What would happen if EVERY picture book had a YouTube video revealing the details of its creation? I think we would become even more enamored of each book, even the ones we think we already “get.” But at least it would level the field a bit.

What do you all think? Does meeting a book creator make you appreciate their work more? What does it do to your critical abilities? For critics and evaluators, does it ever limit what might have been a partly negative response?

 

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Firebird: A Guest Post by Sam Bloom http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/firebird-guest-post-sam-bloom/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/firebird-guest-post-sam-bloom/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 16:00:10 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=42044 Is it possible for a guy who has won three BGHB Honors, four Coretta Scott King Honors, and one Caldecott Honor (in 1998, for Harlem) to be underrated? Why yes, yes it is. Christopher Myers continues to fly under the radar every year when it comes to Caldecott buzz, but I’m guessing the real committee will […]

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firebird 300x273 Firebird: A Guest Post by Sam BloomIs it possible for a guy who has won three BGHB Honors, four Coretta Scott King Honors, and one Caldecott Honor (in 1998, for Harlem) to be underrated? Why yes, yes it is. Christopher Myers continues to fly under the radar every year when it comes to Caldecott buzz, but I’m guessing the real committee will take a good look at this one.

Julie Danielson interviewed illustrator Myers and author/ballet dancer Misty Copeland at Kirkus a while back; it’s a great piece that is definitely worth a look. In it, Myers talks about how he decided on collage because it allowed him to “choreograph across the page,” using color and texture to reflect the juxtaposition of the “riotous energy” and “careful attention to detail” that constitutes the essence of dance. Keeping this in mind when reading Firebird, I would contend that Myers nailed the “appropriateness of style” criterion…but I would argue that he scores nearly as well with the other criteria, too.

Myers’s illustrations are like intricate puzzles for the reader to take apart and put back together, over and over again. For instance, look at the first full-page spread: the young, unnamed dancer gazes up from the bottom left corner as adult ballerina Misty leaps across a night skyline. In the background, buildings twinkle above a frothy-looking river spanned by a bridge. Misty’s white outfit makes a striking contrast against the lovely midnight blues and deep purples of the sky and river. But don’t stop there: look closer. Note first the texture of the collage, the overlapping pieces of cut paper used to make the night sky, the white-washed blues and blacks of the river below. Now zero in on that skyline. The building above Misty’s outstretched right calf…is that a picture of someone’s hand resting on a gray table, cut into a building shape? And the building above her right knee looks to be a shadowed photo of a brick wall… or is that a fence? All of this is barely noticeable when viewing the spread as a whole, but the bizarre (yet lovely) details become apparent when you lean in for a better look.

In Jules’s piece, Myers talks about how he focused mostly on color and texture to show emotion, and to my mind he succeeded completely. To give just one example, the endpapers are a fiery mix of reds, golds, and oranges, extending that Firebird motif from the front cover. This is some abstract stuff, but young readers will no doubt respond to the hot colors (forget that they are normally referred to as “warm”; these hues are habanero-smoking hot) and texture. To be sure, reading Firebird is an extremely tactile visual experience. Looking closer at the endpapers, I see feathers, the bumps of a diamond-studded (I think) strawberry, a fabric of some sort, and either a shag carpet close-up or a sea anemone. And here, as throughout the book, the reader can clearly see where each piece of cut paper ends and the next begins.

I hate to bring up the typography because I find the book to be practically perfect in every way, but the two fonts are not perfectly chosen. The text is a dialogue between the two characters, with the young girl’s words appearing in a bold italic font and Misty’s words appearing in a bold Roman font. I wish there was more differentiation between the two type styles, because I had to look twice on many occasions to see who was talking. It’s a lovely text, though, and Myers does a fabulous job with his interpretation.

Speaking of interpretation, my own interpretive skills aren’t terribly great, so I’m always curious to hear what others think. What do you all think is going on in some of those spreads? Especially intriguing to me is the final spread, where Misty and the young girl dance together wearing matching white tutus. Silhouetted dancers leap and twirl in front of multi-colored backgrounds, including what I believe is a male dancer to the extreme right. The spread itself is a stunner — it’s absolutely gorgeous — but I don’t completely understand it. Thoughts? And in more general terms, what does everyone think? Are you all high on Firebird, too?

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Viva Frida http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/viva-frida/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/viva-frida/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 16:00:03 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41972 Have you all seen Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales yet? If you have, I think you will agree that THIS book will be getting a lot of consideration by the real Caldecott committee. Not just because it’s beautiful, but there is so much to discuss and wonder about. Then there is the medium. For me, […]

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morales VivaFrida 300x300 Viva FridaHave you all seen Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales yet? If you have, I think you will agree that THIS book will be getting a lot of consideration by the real Caldecott committee. Not just because it’s beautiful, but there is so much to discuss and wonder about. Then there is the medium. For me, what matters is how the illustrations look on the page and how they work as part of the whole when the book is shared and read aloud. But medium always seems to matter to people during award deliberations.

So I have three topics to tackle here: the beauty of the art; the effectiveness and mystery of the book as a whole; and what the medium is from page to page (it changes!).

Can we just all agree that the art in this book is GORGEOUS? The palette, like Frida Kahlo’s art, has a strong Tehuana influence: deep greens, hot pinks, warm reds, midnight blues. In books like this where 3-D art is photographed, the out-of-focus areas can be distracting (e.g. Fall Leaves by Loretta Holland). That never happens here. Morales keeps a tight reign on her composition, and while there is plenty going on in each spread with photographed 3-D art, she has also put thought into the backgrounds. They aren’t static, but they are simple and support the foreground action with sweeping curves.

The simple text — “I am / I search / I see” — in blocky black letters is shadowed by an elegant translucent white script in Spanish: “Soy / Yo busco / Veo.” But who is she? What does she search and see? The answers are in the art alone, so viewers need to be on the alert for every small detail. The more familiar you are with Kahlo’s art, the more sense you will make from the visual clues. On the title spread, we see paints and brushes, a charcoal sketch of Frida, a folded-up cut-paper banner, and some mysterious glass bottles. Do the bottles hold medicines, or pigments for painting? Does the sketch show Frida on a swing, or is she shown as a marionette? You could make a case for each option. Later we see her with a monkey, a marionette from Día de Muertos, a fawn, and a little black dog. Are they companions, or aspects of Frida? Later, the fawn is shot by an arrow and injured, clearly a reference to her self-portrait as an injured deer. Oh, there is so, so much to discuss!

And finally the medium. (Or should I say mediums?) At the beginning of the book, the three-dimensional photographed scenes show characters molded from polymer clay and wool, painted with acrylics (according to the CIP page). The people look like puppets in a stop-motion film, dressed authentically and easily recognizable as Frida and Diego Rivera.

A few spreads into the story, the text reads “sueño / I dream,” and we see a small 2-D painted version of Frida, identical to the 3-D but with a white dress rather than black. This figure grabs a cloud shaped like a boot with wings, dons a pair of winged boots (real now, not clouds) and flies off to the right. Over the next four spreads, the Frida puppet is gone and the setting gradually changes from 3-D to 2-D. We see the new white-dressed Frida float through the landscape, watch while the deer is shot, comfort the deer, bandage its leg, and carry it home to safety. Then suddenly in the next spread she’s back to her “real” 3-D self, surrounded by the puppets of Diego, the deer, monkey, and dog. The scene radiates love and safety, leading to a scene where we finally see her painting a self-portrait on real canvas. It seems pretty clear that we have just entered her imagination and learned a little about where the ideas for her paintings come from.

I think what most bowls me over in this book is how much Morales tells us with so few words and relatively simple images. The emotional element is key, and that is of course a huge part of Frida Kahlo’s art: surreal self-portraits that depict her feelings. But the more I examine this book, the more I realize the amount of thought, intelligence, and intuition Yuyi Morales exhibits here.

I think we need to tackle one more question. Should the committee be concerned with the fact that part of the success of this book is how well the 3-D scenes were photographed? Tim O’Meara, the photographer, is given credit on the title page. Certainly a less skilled photographer could have made a mess of this book. But does his contribution jeopardize its chances for a medal? I really hope not!

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Gaston http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/gaston/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/gaston/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 16:00:32 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41863 I hate missing the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards Ceremony and next-day Symposium for a lot of reasons. Besides getting to see everyone I already know, I love hearing the speeches by people I don’t know (but would like to). One new person whom I would have loved hearing is Christian Robinson, illustrator of Josephine and The Smallest Girl […]

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dipucchio gaston 170x213 GastonI hate missing the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards Ceremony and next-day Symposium for a lot of reasons. Besides getting to see everyone I already know, I love hearing the speeches by people I don’t know (but would like to). One new person whom I would have loved hearing is Christian Robinson, illustrator of Josephine and The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade, both out this year (in addition to Gaston, the book we’re discussing today). I wanted to know how he was so productive this year. I would have asked about the acrylic washes that add depth and character to each illustration. And I would have asked about the puppies in Gaston—how did he get that pure white? Did he just leave a dog shape behind when he painted the background color? And I would have done a little gushy dance about Rain!, the first book of his I ever saw.

Alas, I live in Tennessee, where the Southern Festival of Books was happening at the same exact time as all those people in Boston were hearing about children’s books.

Here we have a sweet dog book in which puppies Gaston and Antoinette have been switched at birth. Gaston, a bulldog, grows up in a family of poodles, and vice versa. But what might have been a calamity is a clever riff on gender roles, family, identity, and belonging. The style is certainly recognizable as the same person who painted Josephine, but the feel and tone of the art is completely different. These sunny greens and dark browns allow the white dogs to really pop. The first spread (after the title spread) and the final spread are the only ones set against blue paint, creating charming bookends of color.

Hard to guess how the Caldecott committee will see this one. The illustrations are beautifully composed, with the dogs always at center stage. All humans are shown in torso only, in the background, so they are barely noticeable, as appropriate for this dog-centered story. The colors on every page invite the eye to linger. I love the picture where the two dog families meet for the first time in the park. Little splashes of yellow—ducklings, daffodils, a jaunty scarf—help create balance. The brushstrokes around the puppies create movement. The varied typefaces add visual interest. The story itself is easy to understand and has tons of child appeal; the voice is engaging and even sometimes interactive (“Oh dear. Who do we have here? … Would you like to see them again?”).

But will it appeal to the committee? Does it appeal to you?

 

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Josephine http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/josephine/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/josephine/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 16:37:07 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41699 The subtitle of Patricia Hruby Powell (author) and Christian Robinson (illustrator)’s fabulous picture-book biography of the early-twentieth-century African American dancer and iconoclast is “The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker” — and the book is truly as dazzling as its subject. So we can get that major, crucial criterion “appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept” […]

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josephine1 240x300 JosephineThe subtitle of Patricia Hruby Powell (author) and Christian Robinson (illustrator)’s fabulous picture-book biography of the early-twentieth-century African American dancer and iconoclast is “The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker” — and the book is truly as dazzling as its subject. So we can get that major, crucial criterion “appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept” out of the way right off the bat; this book will be hard to beat in that category. Every adjective I can think of for the book’s art — vivid, bold, electric; essential; full of verve and pizzazz and razzmatazz — applies to the book’s subject as well. The saturated colors (a rainbow of them — and again, how appropriate); the visible brushstrokes — also brilliantly appropriate for a book about such an outsized and charismatic personality.

I used the word essential up above. I’m not exactly sure I’m using it correctly, but here is what I mean. On the spread where Josephine finally gets to join the chorus with the Dixie Steppers and immediately stands out from the crowd, all we see is four figures forefronted on a page of a rather neutral color — no background at all. The four figures — dancers in the chorus — are delineated about as simply as cartoons: circles for eyes, circles and lines for mouths and noses. Nobody has the correct number of fingers. This is pared-down, impressionistic painting — except that somehow artist Robinson makes Josephine Baker stand out so starkly from the others that you barely need to read the text  (“The chorus kicked forward, / she kicked backward… / They strutted, / Josephine shimmied instead”). Where the other figures are basically vertical, Josephine is all curved kinetic motion — hips swinging to the side, arms outstretched. And with just a white crescent for her smile and a few lines for her rapturously closed eyes, Robinson captures her ecstatic joy in dancing.

More “appropriateness”: the book uses the framing device of a stage to tell the story of Josephine’s life. It opens with a double-page spread of a stage, red theatrical stage curtains pulled closed: the performance is about to begin. From then on each section (“The Beginning”; “Leavin’ with the Show”; “My Face Isn’t Made for Sleeping”; etc.) opens with a spread of that stage with curtains pulled to the side, a few props or pieces of scenery in place, ready for the action to begin. (I particularly appreciate “The Beginning” ‘s center-stage spotlight; we are clearly expecting a star to enter.) This framing device is a brilliant choice for a woman who made such an impact on performance art and who felt most alive when dancing onstage. And notice that the book’s final double-page spread, after all the text has been presented, including the account of Baker’s death, is an echo of the first closed-curtain one, this time with flowers strewn all over the stage floor in tribute. It’s a poignant and appropriately dramatic end to a dramatic story.

There is so much more to talk about in Josephine, and I hope you’ll join in the conversation about this exceptional book. I’d like to hear all the ways YOU think it’s excellent in terms of the ”execution in the artistic technique employed;
  • Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
  • Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
  • Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;
  • Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.”

P.S. Josephine, which was published in February, is the winner of a 2014 Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Award for Nonfiction, and the awards ceremony is tomorrow night at Simmons College, with a colloquium the next day. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I will say that Josephine fans who attend the colloquium will be very happy with one of the treats in their goody bags.

P.P.S. I am sure I will be much more informed after listening to the illustrator and author of Josephine this weekend, and I will be sure to share all insights gleaned in the comments below.

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Sequels, schmequels http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/sequels-schmequels/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/sequels-schmequels/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 14:02:31 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41601 So, as I cast my eyes across my shelf,  I wonder: what in the world is the committee going to do with all the picture-book sequels that have been pouring in?! Now, picture books usually do not have sequels, and some of these are not officially sequels but are simply very similar in style or […]

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So, as I cast my eyes across my shelf,  I wonder: what in the world is the committee going to do with all the picture-book sequels that have been pouring in?! Now, picture books usually do not have sequels, and some of these are not officially sequels but are simply very similar in style or tone to earlier books…but they feel like sequels. I had to search through the Caldecott Manual to find the part that deals with this situation, at least a little bit.

The term, “only the books eligible for the award,” specifies that the committee is not to consider the entire body of the work by an artist or whether the artist has previously won the award. The committee’s decision is to be made following deliberation about books of the specified calendar year.

This is the sentence that many people think the committee skips over. I mean, it seems impossible — how do the very knowledgeable members of the committee manage to NOT talk about books that were honor winners just last year? And yet they do NOT talk about older books or who won or did not win in the past. They discuss JUST the books published during the current year. That’s why I get cranky when people talk about an illustrator being “due” or “it’s about time for so-and-so.” In the actual committee, it’s just the books on the table.

Another phrase from the criteria is “individually distinct.” How does that come into play when a book might look and read so much like its predecessor?

We may talk more in depth here about some of these books in the coming weeks and months, but I wanted to bring a few titles to your attention. Surely this has to be a particularly high number of books that will remind readers and committee members of other books that have either won stickers recently … or garnered a great deal of attention when they did not.

What do YOU think the committee will do? Which of these are strong enough to stand on their own? Are any stronger than its predecessor? Any remarkably weaker?

(To remind you: Quest/Journey…Blizzard/Blackout…Flashlight/Inside Outside…Flora and the Penguin/Flora and the Flamingo…Circle Square Moose/Z Is for Moose)

journey Sequels, schmequels    becker quest Sequels, schmequels

blackout Sequels, schmequels    61pgUD6uNBL. SX258 BO1204203200  254x300 Sequels, schmequels

inside outside Sequels, schmequels     Sequels, schmequels

idle floraflamingo 228x300 Sequels, schmequels    flora thepenguin 9781452128917 350 244x300 Sequels, schmequels

bingham zisformoose 355x300 Sequels, schmequels    bingham circle square moose Sequels, schmequels

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My Bus http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/bus/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/bus/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 16:00:29 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41540 In my opinion, My Bus (a companion book to Byron Barton’s My Car) is a perfect preschool book. But is it too simple to get a Caldecott award? First we meet Joe, the bus driver. “I am Joe. This is my car. This is my bus.” As he drives his bus into town, five dogs and […]

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barton my bus My BusIn my opinion, My Bus (a companion book to Byron Barton’s My Car) is a perfect preschool book. But is it too simple to get a Caldecott award?

First we meet Joe, the bus driver. “I am Joe. This is my car. This is my bus.” As he drives his bus into town, five dogs and five cats board the bus one, two, three, and four at a time. Then they get off in threes (one dog and two cats, two dogs and one cat) to board other vehicles until just one dog is left. “I drive one dog home. My dog! Bow wow.” The solidly built characters and settings invite pointing and participating. Each animal is a different color for easy identification, and each is visible enough to count, whether on or off the bus. There’s no need to even mention the words “addition” and “subtraction.” The only lesson here is to understand what happens when something is taken away from a group.

Now about the art.

When My Car came out back in 2001, I was dismayed at first to see visible pixels around the edges of some of the computer-drawn shapes. Later, I decided that I was being a digital artist snob. We all think visible brushstrokes add character in analog art, so why smooth out the digital medium with super-high resolutions and pretend it’s something else?

Medium aside, there’s plenty more to look at in this art. Barton could have given his characters smiling faces, but he smartly chose not to. The bus driver and each animal looks serious, and the cats look just a little scared — as well they might riding around with all those dogs. And anyway, who smiles while riding a bus? No one outside of ads and children’s illustrations. These animals are all busy going about their days, just as the child being read to is busy counting and naming animals and vehicles.

Barton has such a fine-tuned feel for his audience. He knows how much detail is enough to keep interest and how much might be too much. This kind of book is all about composition and color choices. The bus, however simply drawn, works. It sits on its wheels in just the right way to give it real mass, and the perspective changes accurately in each scene. The colors are bright and cheerful without crossing the line into garish. This is so difficult to accomplish. Give it a try and you’ll see.

So. Do I think this has a chance at the Caldecott Medal? Not really, but I would stand up and applaud the committee if they gave it an honor. It begs the question: can a book’s art be too simple to win the award? The year I served on the committee we gave the medal to Kitten’s First Full Moon, Kevin Henkes’s first foray into preschool books. In some ways, that book was simpler than this one, but it also had a bit more going on, including some thematic nods to a more mature audience, such as a recurring circle motif.

I fear My Bus will appear too simple for the Caldecott, but I think it has a strong chance at a Geisel. What do you think?

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Separate Is Never Equal (or how to find out more about a book) http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/separate-never-equal-find-book/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/separate-never-equal-find-book/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:00:31 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41438 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 […]

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tonatiuh separate is never equal Separate Is Never Equal (or how to find out more about a book)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.

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What *about* those Caldecott criteria? http://www.hbook.com/2014/09/blogs/calling-caldecott/important-caldecott-criteria/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/09/blogs/calling-caldecott/important-caldecott-criteria/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 16:00:39 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41283 Last week, Robin reminded us how crucial it is to keep the Caldecott criteria in mind as we examine this year’s picture books. We all know that the Caldecott rules and criteria are paramount and inviolable, and for decades committees have obsessively wrestled with the meanings and nuances of “excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed”; […]

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Last week, Robin reminded us how crucial it is to keep the Caldecott criteria in mind as we examine this year’s picture books. We all know that the Caldecott rules and criteria are paramount and inviolable, and for decades committees have obsessively wrestled with the meanings and nuances of “excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed”; “excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept”; “appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept”; etc.

Aside from a few amendments to the rules added in later years, the Caldecott rules and criteria were written in 1937 (or earlier — sometime before the first Medal was awarded in 1938. I’m sure KT Horning could give us the exact date). That’s almost EIGHTY years ago. Wow.

To my mind, the Caldecott criteria are open-ended enough and yet specific enough to allow committees to home in on excellence and also permit some more envelope-stretching interpretation (The Invention of Hugo Cabret, anyone?). And it’s a testament to their timelessness that much of the criteria and rules have been picked up when newer awards have been established, such as the Sibert and the Geisel.

And yet…. the world has changed a lot in eighty years; the way books are published has changed; the format they are published in is changing; who is creating books is changing. Do the criteria still work? Are there some parts of the criteria that do not feel particularly timeless? i.e., that feel outdated in today’s world? Is there enough room in the Caldecott criteria to accommodate graphic novels, for instance?

One of the criteria that to me feels like it raises some questions is the “appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept” one. In theory, it is valuable, and I particularly appreciate that it encourages the committee to look at the picture book as a whole (as opposed to just the illustrations). But what about the cases where the style of illustrations might be outside the mainstream culture, and the majority of the committee may have little or no knowledge of that culture? What happens then? And is it the criterion that needs to be addressed, or the makeup of the committees?

Sorry: lots of questions; not many answers. Those of you who have served on the Caldecott committee — did you find the criteria limiting, or freeing, or challenging, or all of the above? Everyone — are the criteria still allowing the “most distinguished American picture books for children” to be chosen each year?

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The Pilot and the Little Prince http://www.hbook.com/2014/09/blogs/calling-caldecott/pilot-little-prince/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/09/blogs/calling-caldecott/pilot-little-prince/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 14:02:54 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41130 This is a hard post to write. I love Peter Sis’s work, and his latest book, The Pilot and the Little Prince, is getting lots of starred reviews, but I’m having trouble jumping on that bandwagon. Most of my issues with this book wouldn’t fly in a real Caldecott committee discussion. The art is gorgeous and […]

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sis pilot and the little prince The Pilot and the Little PrinceThis is a hard post to write. I love Peter Sis’s work, and his latest book, The Pilot and the Little Prince, is getting lots of starred reviews, but I’m having trouble jumping on that bandwagon.

Most of my issues with this book wouldn’t fly in a real Caldecott committee discussion. The art is gorgeous and thought-provoking, but I don’t love the text. As you know, the committee is only allowed to compare books to other titles published the same year. This one might stack up well against other 2014 picture book biographies, but I just don’t think it’s as good as Sis’s previous books.

Let me get the non-valid stuff over with in this paragraph so we can get on to what the committee would be talking about. The Pilot and the Little Prince follows a format very similar to The Tree of Life, Sis’s biography of Charles Darwin. But  Tree had a clear reason for its three distinct narrative threads and provided insight into what made Darwin tick. Pilot‘s structure is less clear and doesn’t go into much detail about who Saint-Exupery was on the inside. Given the title of this book, I was hoping to learn more about what led to his writing the extraordinary and mysterious Little Prince. Instead, I don’t feel as if I know Sis’s subject any better than I did after reading Saint-Exupery’s Wikipedia entry.

Phew, that’s done.

What the committee CAN discuss about this book is the art and how it works as a whole with the rest of the book’s elements. Sis never takes the easy path. His pointillist style allows him to include myriad small details and references. As a designer, I know how hard it is to put so many images and ideas together on one spread and end up with something balanced and harmonious rather than busy and dissonant.

For example, look at the first spread in the book. We see two small circles showing young Antoine: on the left he is in bed being read to by his mother and on the right he’s a bit older reading by himself. Surrounding these circles we see what he imagines as he absorbs these stories. How do we know that’s what we are seeing? The text doesn’t tell us that the central circles are fact and the surroundings are imagination. It reads, “It was an exciting time of discovery in the world. Things people had only dreamed about were being invented — including flying machines.”

There is a LOT going on in this spread, but the circles showing Antoine use cool colors surrounded with a nearly white background, egg-like. Everything else is warm: red, orange, yellow. There is so much to look at here. I see references to works by Jules Verne and early filmmaker George Melies, both active at the time of Saint-Exupery’s birth and likely to have fueled young Antoine’s interest in flying. There are lots of other references that undoubtedly mean something. I understand the elephant under the hat (from The Little Prince, of course), and Icarus, and the Pterodactyl. But what about the big face in the center that seems to be part of the land? It’s repeated later in a wordless spread after Antoine has started to fly. What does it mean? I like that this book is smarter than I am. There are so many reasons to keep looking and thinking.

I love nearly every visual choice Sis makes in this book. I would love to hear your theories about one choice that I don’t understand. Early in the book, Sis uses negative space to illustrate people in Saint-Exupery’s life who have died. We see his father, who died when he was four, as a white silhouette against a stark landscape and later see his brother and sister, who died in 1917 and 1926, the same way. So what does it mean when Saint-Exupery is shown as a large white silhouette against a map of Paris? Is this foreshadowing? But why on this particular spread? Or is it just a way of designing this spread that doesn’t have anything to do with the visual language he set up earlier?

I think the real committee is likely to spend a lot of time discussing this book. As it should. And as we should right now.

 

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