The Horn Book » Calling Caldecott http://www.hbook.com Publications about books for children and young adults Wed, 17 Dec 2014 19:31:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.5 The Farmer and the Clown http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/farmer-clown/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/farmer-clown/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 17:00:44 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=44102 Things are beginning to heat up. Mock Caldecotts are being decided; best-of-year lists continue to be released; over at Fuse #8, Betsy Bird has made her final predictions. It’s time to talk about a book that’s been one of my favorites all fall: Marla Frazee’s The Farmer and the Clown. I find it difficult not […]

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9781442497443 f3568 300x243 The Farmer and the ClownThings are beginning to heat up. Mock Caldecotts are being decided; best-of-year lists continue to be released; over at Fuse #8, Betsy Bird has made her final predictions.

It’s time to talk about a book that’s been one of my favorites all fall: Marla Frazee’s The Farmer and the Clown.

I find it difficult not to gush over this book. It is so simple and yet so profound: the classic “stranger comes to town” story brilliantly re-imagined and re-visioned. It works for me on both an intellectual and emotional level, so much so that I can start out discussing the composition of a particular page, say, and end up talking instead about the definition of family; love and loss. The search for belonging. What happens when we reveal our true selves to others. You know, the whole human condition.

So to prevent me going off the deep end, I’ll stick to bullet points and simply highlight some of the strengths of the book; some of the things that make it worthy of Caldecott consideration. I hope you will help me fill in the gaps in the comments.

  • THE EXPRESSIVENESS of the characters, through body language and facial expressions. To quote the Horn Book “Fanfare” citation: ”Rarely has posture been used so well in a picture book, here used to wordlessly portray the kindness of strangers who are thrown (literally!) together by happenstance but then changed forever.”
  • THE TENSION. The story itself has built-in tension — how are these seemingly opposite characters going to get along? will the farmer be able to comfort the child? will this be the child’s new home, or will the circus train come back? — so does the visual storytelling. As a reader/viewer I am pulled in two directions. I want both to linger over each spread to catch every nuance AND to turn the page to see what happens next. The picture book storytelling is perfectly balanced here.
  • THE LANDSCAPE. This has got to be one of the sparest landscapes ever depicted in a picture book. The horizon stretches unendingly beneath vast skies. There is no vegetation aside from the one tree on the one knoll. There aren’t even any haystacks to break up the emptiness (though there seems to be plenty of hay to make them with). The color palette is equally austere: brown, sere, desert-like. Does the empty landscape echo and make manifest the heart of the farmer? Or does it serve to keep the viewer’s focus on the characters, their interactions and emotions? I would say both.
  • THE ENDING. It is just open-ended enough. You close the book satisfied but also with a little room to fill in details yourself. It’s not the mind-blowing, drop-the-reader-off-a-cliff ending of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. But the questions asked by the ending can be answered by a the story you’ve just finished reading. It’s a very organic, very satisfying kind of open-endedness. The answers are all in the spot illustration on the last page: in the farmer’s posture (relaxed, upright, hands in pocket — he’s contemplative, but not unhappy), in the hat he’s wearing, the hat HE chose to swap with the little clown; and of course in the presence of the circus monkey, the same size and shape and dressed the same way as the departed little clown.
  • THE MULTILAYEREDNESS of the wordless narrative. One of the most brilliant parts of the book is the very first page where Frazee uses a clean white background rather than that mottled sere brown — the page just after the little clown has been jettisoned from the train. Read it one way (with makeup in place): a little clown seeks to entertain an audience. He does a little dive move, he doffs his cap, he takes a bow. All part of a performance. BUT. Read it another way (if one could see through the makeup to the scared baby/toddler beneath): he points desperately to where he came from; he mimics how he fell from the train, he bends over in despair; he runs to the farmer to plead for help. I’m not sure I know of another picture book that accomplishes this layered interpretation.
  • THE VISUAL LINKS BETWEEN THE CHARACTERS. There are many. Even when they look like complete opposites — tall skinny old farmer all dressed in black; short round young child all dressed in red — there is a relationship between them. Note the reverse symmetry of the small clown and the tall farmer: the clown’s tall pointy hat is the farmer’s long pointy beard, in reverse; the clowns horizontal ruffle around his neck is the farmer’s flat hat on his head. Then when the truth comes out and the little clown’s true self is revealed, the link becomes closer and nearer: we see their equally bald heads, and the farmer’s red long johns match the child’s red clown suit. And at the very very end, the link between them is cemented when the farmer swaps their hats, placing his black hat on the toddler’s head and donning the tall red cone hat himself.
  • THE STORY’S DEPTH. This would have been just a sweet little story of friendship and love/loss/love…but the addition of the painted-on smile of the little clown asks SUCH deeper questions and adds so many deeper layers. And so by the end of the book, this reader, anyway, is entirely emotionally invested. Look at that oversized arm on the final double-page spread (the long horizontal arm balanced compositionally by the long horizontal train, by the way). Is the farmer’s arm waving goodbye? or reaching out, trying to hold on? There’s a phenomenal amount of feeling in that disembodied arm. I am not sure many other artists could invest so much emotion in an ARM.

I’ve heard that The Farmer and the Clown doesn’t work for two- and three-year-olds. Well, no. Is it supposed to? Do people think that because the clown is a very young child, the book also must be for very young children? The age of the baby/toddler clown does not determine the audience for this book. It’s for reader-viewers who are interested in determining and decoding the situation, reading the postures, the facial expressions, watching the specific yet universal story unfold.

And no, it’s not all that funny. Again, is it supposed to be? I am not sure that all Marla Frazee books have to be laughfests. The book does have small moments of humor (the juggling eggs sequence, for instance), but it’s the kind of humor that might evoke a smile rather than a guffaw. I think readers are too involved in the pathos of the situation, the drama, the tension, to want or need to do a lot of giggling. But since the Caldecott committee is charged with looking only at the books of 2014, a comparison to Frazee’s earlier work should not apply.

Can the Caldecott committee ignore their expectations of what a Marla Frazee picture book should be? Will they see the genius of this book?

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All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/different-now-juneteenth-first-day-freedom/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/different-now-juneteenth-first-day-freedom/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 17:00:32 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=43995  I have written about and talked about this book a lot elsewhere, so it seems time to put my finger on why the Caldecott committee should take a close look at All Different Now. Before I start, I want to dispel a myth I hear a lot. It goes something like this: this is really […]

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johnson all different now All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom I have written about and talked about this book a lot elsewhere, so it seems time to put my finger on why the Caldecott committee should take a close look at All Different Now.

Before I start, I want to dispel a myth I hear a lot. It goes something like this: this is really a Coretta Scott King Award book, so the Caldecott committee will figure it will win there and might not pay much attention to it. NO. NO. NO. That’s not how it goes.

The Caldecott committee is not allowed to think or talk like that. It doesn’t work like that. When I was on Caldecott, Dave the Potter was honored by both committees. Each committee works independently of the other. I know because I have been lucky enough to serve on both the Caldecott and the CSK committees. So, I would never be surprised to see this book (or any eligible title) honored by both. It should happen more often, actually, that a book is honored by a number of committees. Though each committee has its own manual and criteria (and here I am talking about every committee, whether it’s part of the American Library Association or not), every committee is hoping to identify the best book, best art, best story of the year. I am thinking of the year Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb won in a gazillion categories: I wanted the wealth to be spread, but understood how it happened that one book pleased so many constituencies. So to repeat, there is no communication between the committees. And on the Monday morning when the awards are announced, everyone in the room is surprised (or disappointed) at the same time.

On to All Different Now. Angela Johnson and E.B. Lewis have created something special here. For those of you who might not know, Juneteenth refers to the anniversary of the day that slaves in Texas heard the news that the Civil War had ended and that slavery had been abolished. Plantation owners kept the information away from their slaves, and Union soldiers had trouble getting into Texas to tell them. Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19th 1865; hence the moniker Juneteenth. The excellent back matter tells the reader everything that was probably skipped in American history classes.

But this is not a history book; this is a story imagining how people reacted to the news that they were finally free, that things were “all different now.” Lewis’s painterly style is perfect for this story. Using a child narrator, Johnson and Lewis tell the story of the news of Emancipation spreading from the port to the town to the country and to the fields in one stunning paneled spread. Look closely at the astonished faces of the women, the suspicious looks from the men, and the jubilant body motions of the people in the cotton field. Lewis and Johnson imagine the feelings: anger, jubilation, confusion, gratitude, frustration. Somehow Lewis is able to paint all those feelings. He also shows how strong the family is in the story: at the beginning we see the children warm under a quilt and next we see a mother or sister taking care of the children. Everyone, from one-hundred-year-old Mr. Jake to the baby in Aunt Laura’s arms, is cared for; everyone understands the seriousness of the news they have just received.

Lewis’s watercolors use color and tone to tell this story. Muted greens and browns tell the story of the first half of the book; a more hopeful blue enters at the halfway point. The white of the beach pushes away the brown of the field, and the girls’ white dresses pop against the night sky and the burning fire. The night scenes are somber.

I love the final spread, where the only words are “all different now.” The little houses are closed up and the people are leaving. For what? To go where? The text does not reveal where they are going, allowing the reader to imagine herself into the story.

I return to the cover often. The outstretched arms of so many women (and one man) give me a little chill. And sometimes a little chill is all it takes for someone to champion a book. I would champion this one, if I were on the committee.

 

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Buried Sunlight http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/buried-sunlight/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/buried-sunlight/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 17:00:13 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=44015 Full disclosure: Molly Bang is one of those children’s-book people I’ve gotten to know a bit. Not so well that, as Robin puts it, she is likely to look me up on Facebook to see if I’m over the flu. But she’s visited my class a few times, we’ve corresponded by email, and I’ve visited […]

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bang buried Buried SunlightFull disclosure: Molly Bang is one of those children’s-book people I’ve gotten to know a bit. Not so well that, as Robin puts it, she is likely to look me up on Facebook to see if I’m over the flu. But she’s visited my class a few times, we’ve corresponded by email, and I’ve visited her home and studio. Molly is one of the hardest-working illustrators I know. She never ever takes shortcuts (all those dots!) and she is passionate about creating books that will explain science to a new generation. (Of course none of this is relevant to the Caldecott committee. What should matter to them is the book itself, not how it was made.)

Before getting to a discussion of the illustrations, I just have to say how much I wish this series had been around when I was taking science in middle school and high school. As a visual learner, I only grasped the edges of things like photosynthesis and the periodic table of elements. If only there had been a set of beautiful, clearly written books that provided both historical context and scientific details for all those Hs and Os and Cs with their little subscript numbers. There are real plants and animals and houses and power plants and tractors to grasp hold of here. And they are all spewing out little dots that stand for elements: white dots are O (oxygen), black dots are C (carbon). Yellow represents energy in all its forms, sometimes as a halo around an animal, sometimes as waves of little yellow dots moving through space. Seeing clusters of CO2 (a black dot surrounded by two white dots), bubbles of pure oxygen (pairs of white dots), and carbon chains (black dots glued together with little yellow dots) makes sense AND connects to everything I was trying to learn in science class. Thank you, Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm!

So. On to the illustrations.

This book (and the others in this series) is so ambitious. It’s impressive that Molly Bang was able to create illustrations that are not just useful but truly beautiful. She uses lots of deep colors: cobalt blue for the ocean, azure for the sky, various shades of brown and yellow ochre for the ground, an array of greens for plants, and — my favorite — a really rich black for outer space above our atmosphere. On top of these deep colors are the yellow highlights denoting energy, then all the little dots that show elements. Sometimes she adds large workflow arrows with translucent shading, full of whatever compounds she is explaining. How does she accomplish this without making a big hot mess?

It helps that the text gives us a clear trajectory as the Sun, our narrator, takes us from space down through the atmosphere to our Earth home, explaining a different aspect of fossil fuels on each spread. When we turn to a new spread, we first see a bold design with large shapes and thick borders around panels. This gives us a focus and keeps the whole from seeming too daunting. Then, as we hear or read the text, we can examine the details. Perhaps there is a cutaway of the earth showing a town above and a coal mine below. Or we see Earth from space, millions of years ago during an ice age on the left; and today, teeming with animals, on the right.

Chisholm and Bang keep the text pretty simple, emphasizing the natural balance of our ecosystem before we started using so much energy, and contrasting it with the frighteningly rapid changes that have occurred over the past 100 years. Clearly, the authors have an agenda. But their narrator takes the long view and presents us with the facts, leaving us to make our own decisions about the future of our planet. The book ends where it started, zooming back out away from Earth with a close-up of the Sun.

For anyone who worries that this complicated system has been oversimplified, the final six pages provide additional information. (I wonder if this breaks the record for the number of pages of back matter relative to the overall page count of a picture book.)

Can this book win the Caldecott? I suspect it’s a long shot for the Medal. But an Honor Book? I’d like to think so. If it doesn’t get something (Sibert?) on February 2, I will be very unhappy!

 

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Your nominations, please http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/nominations-please/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/nominations-please/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 17:00:11 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=43958 At just about this time  of year, the Real Caldecott Committee members are wrapping up their nominations. At the Midwinter meetings, they will discuss only the titles that have been nominated. To clarify, members may suggest many titles throughout the year (and everyone on the committee needs to read all suggested books in their entirety) […]

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At just about this time  of year, the Real Caldecott Committee members are wrapping up their nominations. At the Midwinter meetings, they will discuss only the titles that have been nominated. To clarify, members may suggest many titles throughout the year (and everyone on the committee needs to read all suggested books in their entirety) but in the end may only nominate 7 titles. Each nomination is made to the whole committee with a paragraph (or a few paragraphs) explaining why the book is deserving of a nomination. Since each member gets to nominate only 7 titles, it can be a grueling decision.

If you want to know more about this part of the process, the Caldecott manual is available here. The pages that explain the suggestion and nomination process are 28-30.

We would like to know what you would nominate if you were allowed 5 nominations. Slow down and think. Five. Just 5. It’s always a challenge to take that in.

Start thinking about which books you think are the very best, the ones that you think best fit the criteria and are most deserving of a sticker.  You may nominate five books (that number is admittedly random but seems about right for our purposes; we hope we will get us enough nominations without overwhelming us) — and yes, they may be titles we have not talked about yet…or titles you think we have missed. We are human. We might miss something important. Let us know. You may write a few sentences in support of your favorites if you wish, but the plain-old titles will suffice. We don’t want to add to your workload at this busy time of year. (Caveat: If you nominate off our list, however, I hope you WILL write some words of support. You gotta convince us to move past our December to-do list and find your special book! )

We will post frequently in the coming weeks, so please stop back often. We would really love to have as many nominations as possible, so feel free to share this on Facebook, Twitter, and wherever the cool kids hang out these days. Midwinter is late this year, so we have a fair number of weeks in January to come up with a final ballot and talk about books, so we are not feeling rushed. However, we want to hear from as many people as possible. So, chime in!

Here are the titles we plan to discuss in the coming days and weeks (as you can see, we still have some great books to talk about):
All Different Now
Buried Sunlight
The Farmer and the Clown
Gravity
The Iridescence of Birds
Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads
Little Red Roja Riding Hood
The Right Word

And, here are the titles we have discussed so far:
Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold
A Letter for Leo
Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas
The Hug Machine
The Baby Tree
Draw!
Where’s Mommy?
Grandfather Gandhi
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole
Firebird
Viva Frida
Gaston
Josephine
Quest
Flashlight
Flora and the Penguin
Circle Square Moose
[previous four titles in one post here]
My Bus
Separate Is Never Equal
The Pilot and the Little Prince
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems

If you could nominate just five books, what would you choose? Go to the comments and let us know. 

 

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Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/winter-bees-poems-cold/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/winter-bees-poems-cold/#comments Mon, 08 Dec 2014 17:00:05 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=43805 Baby, it’s cold outside. Time to look at this very wintry book. Taking it from the top… We notice the arresting cover: the leaping fox; the contrast between the fox’s red coat /dark paws and the white, snowy background; the overlay of snow in the air. Open the book to see endpapers the color of […]

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sidman winter bees 300x259 Winter Bees and Other Poems of the ColdBaby, it’s cold outside. Time to look at this very wintry book.

Taking it from the top…

We notice the arresting cover: the leaping fox; the contrast between the fox’s red coat /dark paws and the white, snowy background; the overlay of snow in the air.

Open the book to see endpapers the color of a winter twilight.

Right off the bat there’s an attempt to involve the audience, visually: that fox on the cover (what is it about to pounce on, we wonder); the moose looking straight at us from out of the title page; even the vole on the front flap seems to be looking at us. (I imagine this was a calculated decision, given the nature of the subject: winter being the least active season of the year. All this pulls the audience in before the majestic double-page spreads begin.)

Immediately we notice the sense of texture on the page; the overlay of falling or swirling or even just imminent snow. You can almost breathe this book; you can feel the frozen air in your lungs. There’s a lot of accomplishment on evidence in this book, but the palpable air in this book may be its most remarkable quality.

Then we are presented with one double-page spread after another of majestically composed winter scenes featuring a range of animals, large and small. We notice the care taken to present scenes from an animal’s-eye view, the arresting perspectives, the palette that somehow communicates the sense of cold and yet uses warm colors in spots — and sometimes more than that. Particularly the orange-red of the fox, the bees’ hive, the beavers’ lodge, the chickadees’ breasts. (The cover -and title-page type presages this constant contrast between cold and warm, with the word winter in a chilly blue-purple and the word bees in that orange-red.)

My favorite two spreads in the book, however, feature no animals at all. (I will not be able to be eloquent enough about them, so be sure to take a look for yourself.) A closeup of a single branch opens the book (coming directly after the title page and before the table of contents). On the left hand page, we see the branch as it would look in autumn; as our eye travels toward the right, that same branch gradually morphs into what it would look like in winter. At book’s close (just before the final glossary page), the left-hand page shows the branch in winter, and now as our eyes move to the right, the branch morphs into spring, with the snow disappearing and small buds beginning to appear. And on the tip of the branch? Green. A bud just flowering into leaf. Taken together, those two spreads are the most elegant depiction of the changing seasons I think I’ve ever seen.

About his process for creating the illustrations for Winter Bees, Rick Allen writes (on the copyright page): “The images for this book were made through the unlikely marriage of some very old and almost new art mediums. The individual elements of each picture (the animals, trees, snowflakes, etc.) were cut, inked, and printed from linoleum blocks (nearly two hundred of them), and then hand-colored. Those prints were then digitally scanned, composed, and layered to create the illustrations for the poems. The somewhat surprising (and oddly pleasing) result was learning that the slow and backwards art of relief printmaking could bring modern technology down to its level, making everything even more complex and time-consuming.”

Does this matter? Would a knowledge of the laboriousness and complexity of the artist’s process influence the Caldecott committee? Is the committee even allowed to take such information into consideration? or must they ignore it and simply consider the finished product?

Your thoughts are welcome.

 

 

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We’re golden http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/golden/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/golden/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 17:00:03 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=43808 I think we’d all agree that last year was a remarkable year for picture books. And that last year was SO spectacular, SO impressive, that this year might have felt a little…flat. I’ve even caught myself feeling kind of bad for the current Caldecott committee — 2013 would be a tough act to follow. But this week, here at The Horn Book, we finalized […]

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CC books 2014 300x300 Were goldenI think we’d all agree that last year was a remarkable year for picture books. And that last year was SO spectacular, SO impressive, that this year might have felt a little…flat. I’ve even caught myself feeling kind of bad for the current Caldecott committee — 2013 would be a tough act to follow.

But this week, here at The Horn Book, we finalized our Fanfare list, our choices for the best books of 2014, and it was really hard to narrow down the picture book choices. Narrow we did, though, and yet: of the 29 books on the list, fully 15 — more than half — are picture books, from story books to folklore to poetry to biography to science.

Also this week, I saw the Huffington Post’s Best Picture Books of 2014 list, which Minh Le prefaced thusly:

“After the last fantastic year in picture books, it was hard to imagine 2014 reaching the same heights. And indeed, my initial impression was that this year’s offerings fell short of 2013′s stellar crop. However, as I sifted and sorted through the piles of books to put this end-of-the-year post together, the list of quality books kept growing. By the end, I was as convinced as ever that we are living in a new golden age of picture books.”

Are we convinced? I am. True, this year has fewer picture books that just scream out for Caldecott recognition (although these do exist! “Fewer” doesn’t mean “none”). But there’s a remarkable breadth and depth this year, a host of quieter treasures that deserve appreciation and admiration.

So, yes, I’m convinced. And encouraged and pleased — on behalf of the field, on behalf of the art form that is the picture book, and on behalf of the kids who are the beneficiaries of all this wealth. And also on behalf of this year’s Caldecott committee, who will have no lack of great books on the table come Midwinter.

But what about you? How do you see this year’s crop of picture books versus last year’s?

 

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A Letter for Leo http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/letter-leo/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/letter-leo/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 17:00:07 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=43622 I have been looking forward to this book since I (and my class of second graders) fell in love with Sergio Ruzzier’s Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? last year. Let’s take a look at it the way I learned to do on the Caldecott committee. I like to savor a book when I […]

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letter for leo 252x300 A Letter for LeoI have been looking forward to this book since I (and my class of second graders) fell in love with Sergio Ruzzier’s Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? last year.

Let’s take a look at it the way I learned to do on the Caldecott committee. I like to savor a book when I see it for the first time.

Remove the dust jacket: Oh, here’s a little surprise! (And I love surprises!) On the paper cover, we see a little critter/postman delivering mail, with a little blue bird poking its body around the pole of the mailbox. On the inside case cover, the little bird is gone. Oooh. Why? (Tuck that “why?” into my small brain.)

Plain blue end pages, the color of the bird. Nothing will be covered up when the cover is attached by librarians. THANK GOODNESS. They hate that. I don’t really care because I take off the cover at home, but librarians care. Deeply.

Title page: lovely typeface, easy to read, but sophisticated. A circular spot drawing shows a little bird, sad-faced, in a dark place filled with letters and packages. Ohhh. I love that and now must Turn The Page.

First pages: I almost read the summary on the copyright page. I hate when that happens. Would much rather wait and read it at the end. This first spread is so pretty, filled with images of what I imagine the countryside of Tuscany looks like. (Sergio Ruzzier is Italian-born, but American.) The blue mountains match a blue-roofed tower. I like that. (Since I have read his other books, I am always ready for unusual colors in the landscape.)

After this, I turn each page very slowly, taking in the story in pictures. I am trying to see if the story is understandable on its own. It is, though I look forward to what the words will add when I read it a second time.

Here are some details that I notice as I turn the pages: a fox in a tree, reading; a wrapped-up dog bone; animals playing a bowling game; a painting of a mountain whose reflection looks like the back flap of envelope; the critter-postman’s sad face at the end of a day; a tree whose branches look like a beckoning finger; a set of encyclopedias; circular illustrations that seem to change size with Leo’s mood; full-bleed pages and spreads; a bird flying into a mountain; plants in a window looking sad (if that is possible); and a joyful reunion. (So relieved about that reunion!)

Now I flip back and read the summary. Oh, postman Leo is a weasel. I didn’t know what animal he was. No big deal.

Now, let me read the words and pictures together. The text is clear and easy to read. The only hard word is bocce. (I always think Geisel Award when I read books with minimal text. Who knows what they are doing on the Geisel committee right now?) The illustrations clearly extend the text.

Watercolor is a gentle medium for this story of warm friendship. It’s a quiet story, but one that will resonate with children and adults alike. It will also hold up to repeated readings, which is a great thing, because I think this will be read over and over, which I have done now. Leo is such a good guy (er, weasel) that I will love returning to his and Cheep’s story often.

I did eventually read this to my class, which is not the class who was so crazy about Blue Socks last year. This current class oohed and ahhed over each page turn and was very happy with the ending. They loved the occasional blue mountain and pink sky and spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out why Ruzzier chose those particular colors, as well as why he chose circular frames at some points and full-bleed pages at others. I love to pose questions like this to my class because there is no correct answer, but my students like to figure these things out. They flipped back and forth between the two double-page spreads that show first a flock of birds flying north for the summer and then Cheep flying away to join them, leaving Leo behind. There are so many similarities between the two spreads, but the kids really noticed how Ruzzier used color and space to make them, the readers, feel emotions. The more they looked, the more they noticed, which is a great sign for committee discussion.

Ruzzier’s art is recognizable to me, and I am a fan, but for this group his work was brand new. I loved seeing the pictures through their young eyes.

Will the committee have a member who is willing to take the time to point out how special this gem is? I hope so.

 

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Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/calling-caldecott/elizabeth-queen-seas/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/calling-caldecott/elizabeth-queen-seas/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:42:05 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=43273 Since Brian Floca won the Caldecott last year for Locomotive, you can bet this year’s committee will be taking a look at his 2014 picture book. Written by long-distance swimmer Lynne Cox, this is a factual account of a particularly incorrigible elephant seal and the Christchurch, New Zealand, community that eventually made way for her. […]

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cox elizabeth queen of the seas Elizabeth, Queen of the SeasSince Brian Floca won the Caldecott last year for Locomotive, you can bet this year’s committee will be taking a look at his 2014 picture book.

Written by long-distance swimmer Lynne Cox, this is a factual account of a particularly incorrigible elephant seal and the Christchurch, New Zealand, community that eventually made way for her. Cox doesn’t say just when this happened, but possibly as early as 1975 (the date of her most famous New Zealand swim), which would explain the older-looking cars. We do know that she heard the story from Michael and Maggie, a young brother and sister, and subsequently consulted an elephant seal specialist for more specific information.

What really matters for us — and for the Caldecott committee — is how her text and Brian Floca’s illustrations work to tell the story.

This is a very charming picture book. Floca’s ink and watercolor illustrations have a light touch, with none of the spectacle of Locomotive‘s art. But why should we expect anything flashy? Elizabeth’s story is slighter and cozier than the epic story of the Transcontinental Railroad. The text here has a light tone, and it’s really up to Floca to give Elizabeth her somewhat cheeky personality.

In case you’re not familiar with this book, it’s about an elephant seal — an animal that normally prefers the ocean — who swam up the Avon river in New Zealand and started showing up alongside a road in the city of Christchurch. When the seal decided that the middle of that road was an even better place to sun herself, people worried about accidents — either to the seal or to drivers — and tried three times to relocate her to the ocean, each time farther away. When she kept finding her way back (the last time from hundreds of miles away), they decided to let her stay, putting up a sign:

SLOW
ELEPHANT SEAL
CROSSING

Cox’s text is factual, with its only fanciful riffs coming from young Michael, who looks for Elizabeth every day and imagines that her two snorts are a greeting to him. Because of Floca’s illustrations, we do not doubt Michael’s interpretation.

One thing I like very much is Floca’s choice (or perhaps the designer’s) to punctuate key moments in the story with hand-lettering. We first see this when the people of Christchurch decide that her regal nature deserves a regal name, christening her (in large cursive text) “Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas.” The same writing is used when Michael calls to Elizabeth and when he greets her after a long journey: “Elizabeth! You’re home!”

I particularly like Cox’s decision to end the book with a speculative section imagining what it might have been like for Elizabeth to return home that last time after such a long swim. Cox imagines her swimming and swimming through day and night, and this is where Floca’s art becomes transcendent. There’s a particular moonlit spread that is quiet but full of emotion, with dark trees looming on the bank and a light yellow moon-colored wake showing where Elizabeth is swimming.

The text and art match each other in tone throughout, but compared to the other books up for the Award this year, do you think this one is distinguished enough for the committee to honor it?

 

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The Hug Machine: a guest post by Thom Barthelmess http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/calling-caldecott/hug-machine/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/calling-caldecott/hug-machine/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 17:00:21 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=43280 My choice for Caldecott 2015 consideration is Scott Campbell’s delightful, infectious, and secretly sophisticated Hug Machine. This is the kind of book that is easy to miss because it is disguised as a romp. It doesn’t pretend to be serious, and so doesn’t signal our serious attention. It’s up to us to apply that attention. […]

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hug machine1 The Hug Machine: a guest post by Thom BarthelmessMy choice for Caldecott 2015 consideration is Scott Campbell’s delightful, infectious, and secretly sophisticated Hug Machine. This is the kind of book that is easy to miss because it is disguised as a romp. It doesn’t pretend to be serious, and so doesn’t signal our serious attention. It’s up to us to apply that attention. So apply it we shall.

Ready? Here is a list of my award-worthiness enthusiasms:

1) The faces. Campbell does some good faces. His style is particularly loose and sketchy, but boy howdy, can he capture emotion and attitude in a few watercolor gestures. From the resolute purpose of the hugger, expressed in his firm mouth and closed eyes, to the variety of surprise among those being hugged (catch the look on his dad’s face, and that turtle!), the priceless range of emotion adds meaning and depth to what might have been one-note mawkish.

2) The composition. Some spreads are open, and some are crowded. But whether it’s the ominous space between the hug machine and his intended porcupine, or the busy, serial hugging along the dotted line (a la “Family Circus”), the composition is never accidental and always effective.

3) The font. Everything is hand painted, with the same easy watercolors as the pictures, reinforcing the child-perspective and adding to the insouciance. I think the committee would need to wrestle with the degree to which typeface is an element of illustration, but with hand lettering like this, with such an arguably big role to play in the experience, I’d be advocating for its consideration.

4) The arc. It’s not uncommon to happen upon a picture book whose words and images match its listeners. But I can’t remember the last time I encountered a book whose story arc was so well calibrated to its audience. The pagination, the pacing, the implicit pauses and inflections. Here is a book that will blossom when read aloud, over and over (and over). Pacing is another element not directly invoked by the Caldecott terms and criteria, but it is a critical element in picture book success. And with the imagery here playing such a big role in the pacing (see #2, above) I’d put it on the table.

5) The details. They got everything right here. The heavy buff stock feels delicious under your fingertips. The endpapers, with their empty and completed checklists, even the author flap of the dust jacket (with our hero hugging a fire hydrant while a curious dog looks on) — all of it contributes to a cohesive, thorough, and endlessly appealing experience.

6) The edge. I’m not exactly allergic to sincerity, but I do like my earnest cut with a healthy dose of dry. This is an undeniably sweet outing, but between the bodacious humor and the appreciable astringency, it is anything but cloying. And the irreverence and irony embodied in the illustrations (is that a snake?!) are the heart of the edge.

7) The gender expression. This is a book all about warmth, doused in pink and glowing with ardor, and the bearer of all of that fervent affection is a little boy. Boom. Here’s a place where we’d need to work pretty hard to tie this appreciation to the award. The last time I checked, “Thom is so happy this book exists” is not articulated among the Caldecott terms and criteria. Yet. But let’s think about it. I’d argue that the success here is the artist’s use of color and composition (among other things) to explore being a sensitive boy, in a particularly subtle and sophisticated way. Even if the function itself doesn’t count, we’re allowed — even called — to consider its artistic achievement.

That’s what I think about Hug Machine. What do you think?

 

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The Baby Tree http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/calling-caldecott/baby-tree/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/calling-caldecott/baby-tree/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 17:00:33 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=43177 Sophie Blackall’s The Baby Tree was named to the NYT Best Illustrated List this year. Last year Blackall wowed us with her innovative, almost-3D pictures for The Mighty Lalouche — which fact is of course irrelevant to this discussion, since books from previous years are absolutely not allowed on the Caldecott table, literally or figuratively. But one […]

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blackall babytree 222x300 The Baby TreeSophie Blackall’s The Baby Tree was named to the NYT Best Illustrated List this year. Last year Blackall wowed us with her innovative, almost-3D pictures for The Mighty Lalouche — which fact is of course irrelevant to this discussion, since books from previous years are absolutely not allowed on the Caldecott table, literally or figuratively.

But one of the things I so appreciate about Blackall’s work is that it’s always recognizably her own yet it morphs to fit each text or subject’s needs. The Baby Tree is a gentle, sunny, playful domestic story; the Chinese ink and watercolor illustrations are gentle, playful, and sunny. The palette is, if not strictly pastel, definitely in that universe.

The book opens so appropriately, with a close-up, child-focused, step-by-step unfolding of a little boy’s morning. A series of eight vignette illustrations on a spread take the boy from waking up to waking his parents up (he has to wake up Dad twice) to getting dressed to having breakfast. The progression is easy to follow and very informative; we learn a lot about this little boy and his family. (He loves his cat and takes good care of him; his family is close-knit and easy-going; they all care more about books than they do furniture.) A page-turn bring us to a double-page spread in which the parents tell the little boy that “a new baby is coming.” See how the composition puts all the focus on the little boy, as Mom and Dad lean in on either side of him to tell him the big news. All is calm and attentiveness and happiness, and the boy, still processing the news, can only think to ask for a second helping of “cocopops” cereal. The next page-turn, though, shows the boy again, this time inside a whirlwind of activity as Mom and Dad, running late, rush about (Mom is shown with five arms — simultaneously doing her hair, hugging her son, wiping down the kitchen table, and pocketing her smartphone; Dad is only juggling three tasks at once so he has three arms. Good call, Ms. Blackall). Look at the expression on the boy’s face amidst all this commotion. The illustration focuses our attention on that face, and we can almost see the wheels turning in the boy’s head as he realizes that what he really wants to know is: “Where are we going to get the baby?” This one picture speaks volumes about a particular childhood truth: the adult world, however benign and caring, doesn’t always move at a child’s pace or have room for a child’s concerns.

And now the structure of the rest of the book is set up, with each new person to whom the boy addresses the question of where babies come from providing a slightly different answer. Shown in large thought balloons that take up most of a double-page spread, we see the boy imagining a baby tree; a hospital with a swaddled newborn in every window and marching out the door; a flying stork carrying a baby in its beak; a nest in which a baby has just hatched from a speckled egg. These imagined scenarios are somehow perfectly balanced: funny, but also respectful of the child’s imagination as he tries to make sense of his world.

Speaking of humor, it’s (gently) rampant. See the picture of the stork in Grandpa’s house; see the cat named Brian with his/her kittens on the back flap. If you look very closely, you can even follow the quirky behavior of one of the boy’s classmates.

This picture book has tons of child appeal; a satisfying structure; uses a style appropriate to its story, audience, and theme; movement throughout the book, and effective page-turns. Caldecott criteria: check! How will it hold up against the competition? One of which, by the way, is surely another 2014 Sophie Blackall picture book (though we won’t have time to cover it here): Judith Viorst’s And Two Boys Booed. Please let us know your thoughts.

 

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