The Horn Book » Calling Caldecott http://www.hbook.com Publications about books for children and young adults Wed, 19 Nov 2014 16:08:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.4 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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Draw! http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/calling-caldecott/draw/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/calling-caldecott/draw/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 17:00:47 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=43058 I’ve been a fan of Raúl Colón’s distinctive style for years, but this is the first of his books that I think has a really good chance at the Caldecott. It’s gotten starred reviews in The Horn Book, SLJ, Booklist, PW, and Kirkus. Not too shabby. But more than that, it just has an award-book […]

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colon draw Draw!I’ve been a fan of Raúl Colón’s distinctive style for years, but this is the first of his books that I think has a really good chance at the Caldecott. It’s gotten starred reviews in The Horn Book, SLJ, Booklist, PW, and Kirkus. Not too shabby. But more than that, it just has an award-book feel to it.

According to the author’s note at the back, this is an autobiographical fantasy. A boy sits on his bed reading a book. We see the title Africa and a large elephant on the book’s cover. Nearby there’s is a toy pith helmet, a sandwich on a plate, and some art supplies. On the table next to the bed sits an inhaler and a bottle of medicine, and outside the window we can see a city. While Colón doesn’t mention being ill and confined to bed as a child in his author’s note, he has talked about this in interviews.

Next, the interior scene gives way to the boy’s sketchbook pages showing him walking through the desert wearing the helmet and carrying a satchel full of sandwiches, an easel, and a large sketchbook. He flags down a passing elephant, who poses for a portrait and then gives the boy a ride to see more animals for him to sketch. There is no text, and the scenes vary from peaceful spreads to fast-paced chase sequences shown in panels. There are a couple of hair-raising moments with the larger and fiercer animals, but the presence of that benevolent elephant keeps the overall tone cozy rather than scary. The sandwiches, too, come in handy for feeding and placating most of the animals. Finally, near the end of the journey, the boy takes a break to eat his lunch while a baboon sits at the easel and draws a passable sketch of the young artist.

Observant readers will notice that as the book progresses, Colón’s signature warm yellow light with deep blues has gone from morning to midday to afternoon and then sunset. Finally, the boy looks sleepy, leaning against his elephant friend. His eyes close, and we are back in the city with the boy sitting on his bed, sketching his imagined scenes. Or were they real?

As with the best of these sorts of enter-a-new-world fantasies, Colón employs a different style and page treatment for the two worlds. At the beginning and end, for the city-bedroom world, the illustrations are done with thin pen lines and light watercolor with space between the art and the edge of the page. The African adventure pages are full bleeds drawn with Colón’s signature glowing light sources, warm colors, heavy shading, and textures added by scratching into the pigments with sharp tools, often using parallel lines that reveal a light underpainting. And while the jacket contains the obligatory title and author’s name, the cover under the jacket is truer to the spirit of the wordless text, with no writing at all and a completely different scene.

Wordless books tend to fare pretty well with Caldecott committees, as do books about entering a different world. Remember Journey last year? For me, this book fits the Caldecott criteria to a T: excellence of execution; appropriateness and excellence with the interpretation of story, theme, and concept; plot, theme, characters, setting, mood shown through the pictures; recognition of a child audience. I suppose some might quibble with the last point; the book does have a nostalgic tone. But I don’t think that will stand in the way of kids enjoying the possibilities and the adventure.

What do you think? Is this book at the top of your lists? Do you think it’s got a shot at the Medal?

 

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International Picture Books…books I wish were eligible http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/calling-caldecott/international-picture-books-another-point-view/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/calling-caldecott/international-picture-books-another-point-view/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 17:00:28 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=42958 Today you are in for a treat. Julie Danielson, author of the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog, is here to chat with me about international books. Before we start, I should say that I could have included about thirty links to her excellent blog but was too lazy. Please, pour yourself a cup of coffee, carve […]

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Today you are in for a treat. Julie Danielson, author of the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog, is here to chat with me about international books. Before we start, I should say that I could have included about thirty links to her excellent blog but was too lazy. Please, pour yourself a cup of coffee, carve out a day or two, and go over there. It’s an amazing resource for anyone who loves illustration and wants to read more. She has a dandy search function, but I warn you, you will never want to leave. So visit her blog that AFTER you read this, okay?

Robin: Jules, off the top of your head, what are some of your favorite titles from other countries? I have a mini-stack, but, now that I am no longer on the Oustanding International Book committee at USBBY, I don’t get books from other countries unless our local bookstore happens to carry them. I know you see some great ones.

Davies StormWhale 300x260 International Picture Books...books I wish were eligibleJulie: I really love Benji Davies’s The Storm Whale, which was first published last year in the UK but came to the United States this year by way of Henry Holt. It’s a genuinely sweet story of friendship and family, and I love the moments of understated humor.

dubuc LionBird 251x300 International Picture Books...books I wish were eligibleMarianne Dubuc’s The Lion and the Bird was first published in French last year and was translated into English this year, thanks to Enchanted Lion Books. It’s gently paced — a picture book that really knows when to slow down and breathe. When I wrote about it at my site, I said that I remember reading once in a theater text in college that a play is interrupted silence. Well, this story is interrupted silence. Dubuc never rushes the story and really invites readers to be a part of the main character’s loneliness (and subsequent joy).

landstrom pom and pim International Picture Books...books I wish were eligibleI love Lena and Olof Landström’s Pom and Pim, originally published in 2012. They are from Sweden, and their books usually come to American readers by way of Gecko Press. The Swedes seem to be so good at telling wonderfully droll stories that are all about the types of daily dramas (and traumas) that very young children really care about. (Barbro Lindgren is really good at this, too.) And I love the sly humor and minimal lines in the illustrations in Pom and Pim.

sakai hannahs night International Picture Books...books I wish were eligibleSpeaking of Gecko, I also like Komako Sakai’s Hannah’s Night, first published in Japan in 2012. It’s the story of a very young girl who wakes at night and explores her home with her cat, Shiro. There’s mystery and wonder and mischief, and the youngest of readers will thrill at Hannah’s free reign of the home. There are moments of beauty, too, and Sakai’s thick brushstrokes create this vibrant texture in her artwork. There are deep, rich blues, made all the more striking when the sun comes up on Hannah. Ah. Komako Sakai. I’m a fan.

I could go on, but those are probably my top favorites. I know you’ve seen The Storm Whale and Pom and Pim, yes?

Robin: Yes, and I am nuts about both of those titles. The Storm Whale has the story line that I love in a picture book, and Pom and Pim has the slyness and simple illustrations that tell the whole story.

Julie: I should also mention that it’s fascinating to see picture book releases from Tara Books, which is based in Chennai, South India. Hope Is a Girl Selling Fruit is the picture book debut of artist Amrita Das, who paints in the Mithila tradition of folk art, a style of Indian painting practiced in the eastern region of India. I also wrote about that this year and how Das’s prose is direct and moving (and the translation from the Hindi original is seamless). The highly stylized illustrations are marvels of symmetry and reflect grand traditions of Indian art, yet also retain subtle shades of originality.

Robin: I got to serve on the OIBC committee for two years and I loved being introduced to Tara Books. (They have entered into the stationery business, which is a dangerous thing for me. I can’t stop buying their cards.) Are there other publishers who are bringing international books to an American audience?

Julie: I also love it when U.S. publishers will take on imports. Or at least illustrators who live elsewhere. Chronicle will. Candlewick will, in large part because they are with Walker Books in the UK. Schwartz & Wade did Deep in the Sahara. (The author is American, but I’d love to see more work from that illustrator.) TOON Books will (Liniers, for instance). I’m sure there are more. And, of course, Enchanted Lion, but they’re all about that. I don’t know how Claudia Bedrick does it all so well. She’s a wonder.

Robin: What are some of the ways books from other countries differ from books published in the States by American authors?

Julie: I think that, generally speaking, Americans seem to be — for whatever reason — wary of open-ended picture books. This seems to be changing, given the success of picture book creators like Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett. (You can’t get any more open-ended than the final spread in Sam and Dave Dig a Hole.) But Europeans, in particular, seem to have been more comfortable with open-endedness for longer. I still remember a conversation Roger started back in 2012 where a discussion about this occurred in the comments. (To quote illustrator Sergio Ruzzier: “Please, let us have a little bit of uncertainty here and there; otherwise life can get pretty boring.”)

Also, I interviewed Stian Hole at 7-Imp this year. He is from Norway, and this year Eerdman’s released his Anna’s Heaven. Stian and I discussed open endings in our chat. “Life isn´t always a safe place, so why should it be in picture books?” he said. “Wouldn’t it be a fraud to tell children that life is always sweet?” But he also said:

“One difference I have noticed across the Atlantic sea…is that for some reason I don’t quite understand, there is sometimes — or rather in some places in the U.S. — a reluctance toward skin, nakedness, and sexuality in children’s and young adult books. The U.S. is the only country that has asked me to put more clothes on the characters in my images or else they will not publish them. I once had to remove a boy that was peeing, for some reason. Not even the Arabic countries asked me to do that.” He goes on to say he loves his U.S. publisher for taking on his “weird books,” but this is something that generally baffles him.

Robin: Are there illustrators that you look for each year? If so, which ones?

Julie: Isabelle Arsenault, Komako Sakai, Serge Bloch, Beatrice Rodriguez, Suzy Lee, Benjamin Chaud, Liniers, Rafael López (who, at least when I interviewed him at 7-Imp in 2011, had a home in both Mexico and the U.S.), Meilo So, Marije and Ronald Tolman, Dorothée de Monfreid, Wolf Erlbruch, Birgitta Sif. Then there are the talented Brits: Emily Gravett, Mini Grey, Helen Oxbenbury. John Burningham is one of my top-five favorite illustrators. And Gita Wolf is a writer, not an illustrator, but I try my best to follow her illustrated books. (She also founded Tara Books in India – back in the 1990s.)

Robin: I didn’t know Gita Wolf was an author. Wow. Is there a country that seems to support illustrators more than other countries?

Julie: That’s a tough question. I think that Australia, especially thanks to Walker Books Australia, does a good job of getting the word out about their illustrators. Think: Bob Graham, Shaun Tan (although I know Scholastic publishes him here in the States). I also love the work of someone named Ann James, who illustrated Sonya Hartnett’s Sadie and Ratz back in 2012, which Candlewick released here in the U.S. (Just look at those charcoal drawings. Exquisite.)

The Bologna Ragazzi Awards have a category, called New Horizons, that gives special recognition to Arab, Latin American, Asian, and African countries. I love this, because I feel like here in the States we see a fair amount of Asian imports, but I’d like to see more Arab, Latin American, and African picture books.

Robin, finally: What is the main thing you learned from being on the Bologna Ragazzi Award jury?

Julie: In Bologna, you are judging illustrations and, to some extent, design. I love that there are awards out there, like that one, that honor illustration alone, regardless of the text. It’s good to have art awards like that, and boy howdy was I happy to see picture books from all over the world. However, I left with an even deeper appreciation of our Caldecott award, which really looks at the picture book as an art form in which text and art play together. It is a unique art form, after all, and it’s pretty great that the Caldecott celebrates it.

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Where’s Mommy? http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/calling-caldecott/wheres-mommy/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/calling-caldecott/wheres-mommy/#comments Thu, 06 Nov 2014 17:00:23 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=42906 Travis Jonker recently documented the overlap between the New York Times Best Illustrated List and books that have won Caldecott recognition — well done, Travis! — and since there’s no arguing with cold, hard facts, we here at Calling Caldecott are paying attention. By my reckoning, half the books on the 2014 NYT List are […]

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wheres mommy 300x268 Wheres Mommy?Travis Jonker recently documented the overlap between the New York Times Best Illustrated List and books that have won Caldecott recognition — well done, Travis! — and since there’s no arguing with cold, hard facts, we here at Calling Caldecott are paying attention. By my reckoning, half the books on the 2014 NYT List are eligible for consideration, and we’ll try to cover as many of those as we can over the next two months.   

Barbara McClintock’s Where’s Mommy? (written by Beverly Donofrio) is loaded with visual appeal. Part of it for me is the expansiveness of the pages contrasted with the level of detail in the illustrations. The compositions are so clean that they can accommodate an enormous amount of clutter without looking cluttered. Here’s one way you can tell I am not an artist myself: I have no idea how McClintock accomplishes this. Take the double-page spread showing the the living spaces of the house’s two families: the human family gathered in their living room, reading (some together, some individually; the dad on an e-reader!); the mouse family doing the same, below the floorboards. There is so much detail in that spread that it could have been overwhelming, but instead the picture is pleasing to the eye. (I do know that part of the appeal is that the colors are so harmonious.) The instinct is to linger on the page to see every detail. Notice, for instance, that the mouse family has an iPod set up with earbuds mounted to the wall as speakers. It’s only after I’d drunk in a ton of like details that I finally noticed protagonists Maria and Mouse Mouse sharing a corner of the page (and the house) — and we learn that theirs is a secret friendship. And away goes the story.

Not all of the spreads in the book are so saturated and detailed; spreads with generous white space use series of vignettes to advance the action and focus on character — it gives readers the chance to see Mouse Mouse on the same scale as Maria. We see her closer up, and get a clearer sense of her personality.

I really like how the speech balloons are used in the art: they often give pages a needed focal point, and the hand-lettering communicates the increasing sense of urgency as Maria and Mouse Mouse search for their mothers.

I question neither the excellence of the artistic presentation nor the appeal to a child audience. The secret friendship, the parallel worlds of the human and mouse families, the Borrowers-like furnishings of the mouse family, the mystery of the missing mothers, and all the things to look at. This is a book children will pore over — even explore. Kudos to the NYT Best Illustrated judges for bringing attention to this book.

 

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Grandfather Gandhi http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/calling-caldecott/grandfather-gandhi/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/11/blogs/calling-caldecott/grandfather-gandhi/#comments Tue, 04 Nov 2014 17:00:54 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=42539 Let’s get the hard stuff out of the way at the beginning: I am not 100% sure this book is eligible for Caldecott. Yes, it’s published by an American press in the United States, and the illustrator is American. One of the authors (Bethany Hegedus) is American, and the other (Arun Gandhi) lives in Rochester, NY, according […]

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gandhi grandfather gandhi Grandfather GandhiLet’s get the hard stuff out of the way at the beginning: I am not 100% sure this book is eligible for Caldecott. Yes, it’s published by an American press in the United States, and the illustrator is American. One of the authors (Bethany Hegedus) is American, and the other (Arun Gandhi) lives in Rochester, NY, according to  the flap copy. I cannot find a reference to his citizenship on his website or on other websites. That means the book is most likely eligible. I think.

Here are the most common questions that crop up when members of the committee are checking eligibility: actual publication date vs. copyright  date (especially confusing if a book comes out late in December or early in January); residency or nationality of the creator; whether some of the book has been previously published in another format. If there is any question, the chair asks ALSC to vet the book. Books are vetted through ALSC, and (AS FAR AS I KNOW) a book is either deemed eligible or it is not. That information becomes part of the confidentiality agreement of the committee. I think that’s how it works. (People who know better, chime in!)

That means, when random folks state that a book is or is not eligible, folks might be right. Or wrong. For all we know, we could be yakking about books that are not even eligible. Or we might think a book is not eligible when it actually is. The committee will not be talking.

But, back to Grandfather Gandhi: because the book was published in the United States and the illustrator is American, I assume the book is eligible for Caldecott consideration. I was pretty excited when I read KT Horning’s Horn Book review way back in the spring. Her description of the art made my fibers-loving heart beat faster. She wrote, “The graceful narrative is nearly outdone by the vivid mixed-media illustrations, rendered in watercolor, paper collage, cotton fabric, cotton yarn, gouache, pencil, tea and tinfoil.” Even the yarn is spun on an Indian book charkha (one of the earliest types of spinning wheels). Yup. Yarn. I love yarn.

Spinning wheels fill the endpapers, and that handspun cotton is on the first page, resting in Bapu’s (Gandhi’s) knobby hands. And that cotton, in various forms, shows up on many pages — in a large bale of cotton, on Gandhi’s own charkha, in cloth, growing in fields, even as Bapu’s mustache. In other places, other string makes an appearance, the most memorable being black string in a ragged tangle to symbolize Arun’s frustrated fidgeting at early morning prayers and during a soccer game where he feels wronged and grabs a rock in frustration. (And later, those black tangles show up as Arun’s written schoolwork.)

Shadows play into many of the spreads, forcing the reader’s eye to slow down and consider the whole composition. Imagine that a child is thumbing through the book. She or he will just have to stop, read the words, and figure out why the shadow of a cowboy is growing out of Arun’s back. It’s a provocative illustration, but it is exactly the right image for daydreaming Arun. I love the cover image where Arun is walking on the road toward the sun with his grandfather, each with an arm or two behind his back, shadows engulfing much of the path. Interesting shadows of workers, animals, folks in the market, and people meditating draw the eye to the whole page and encourage close inspection of each spread.

Beyond the repeated shadow motif, Turk includes spindles in many of the spreads as a symbol of both the grandfather and for balance in life. So, whether Grandfather is spinning a tale comparing electricity to anger or is actually spinning cotton into thread, the reader has those spinning images to hold onto. Cut-paper abstract images further deepen the emotional pull of the illustrations.

This is a story that holds true to the child’s perspective — a child who is jealous of other people’s pull on his grandfather’s attention, frustrated with his schoolwork, and embarrassed at his inability to control his anger. It’s also a heartfelt introduction to the life of Mahatma Gandhi.

Even if this one does not end up with a shiny sticker on it — and I know it’s a long shot — I hope you will take a second look at it and let us know what you think.

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New York Times Best Illustrated list announced http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/new-york-times-best-illustrated-list-announced/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/new-york-times-best-illustrated-list-announced/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 15:59:20 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=42668 Here it is! http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2014/10/30/books/review/2014-BEST-8.html?_r=1& Usually this list matches up pretty well with our Calling Caldecott list with one or two big surprises. This year I am finding more surprises than matches. But you can be sure we will be locating the books that weren’t so much on our radar and will weigh in as we […]

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Here it is! http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2014/10/30/books/review/2014-BEST-8.html?_r=1&

Usually this list matches up pretty well with our Calling Caldecott list with one or two big surprises. This year I am finding more surprises than matches. But you can be sure we will be locating the books that weren’t so much on our radar and will weigh in as we get our hands on them.

This list always seems to be a bit idiosyncratic. The team of three judges is comprised of one critic and two illustrators. This year they were Jennifer Brown (Bank Street College, Shelf Awareness), Brian Floca, and Jerry Pinkney. When Roger was on this committee, he said that rather than discussing the books together, each member added their favorites to the list, pretty much split evenly. I don’t know if this is how it always works, but the result is always an interesting list.  [See Roger's comment below: in fact they DID discuss titles together, but just from the lists that each judge sent to the NYT editor. So it was pretty much the same as other award committees. I guess what makes the NYT list so different from others must be that two judges are artists.]

Please let us know in the comments which of these you love (or don’t) and why. Now I have to go look for some books…

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Sam & Dave Dig a Hole http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/sam-dave-dig-hole/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/calling-caldecott/sam-dave-dig-hole/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 16:00:51 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=42022 What will the Caldecott committee be talking about when it turns its scrutiny to Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s Sam & Dave Dig a Hole? Maybe the question should be, What WON’T the committee be talking about? Like Yuyi Morales’s Viva Frida, this is one discussable book. Though, perhaps, for different reasons. The art is certainly […]

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sam and dave dig hole1 223x300 Sam & Dave Dig a HoleWhat will the Caldecott committee be talking about when it turns its scrutiny to Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s Sam & Dave Dig a Hole? Maybe the question should be, What WON’T the committee be talking about? Like Yuyi Morales’s Viva Frida, this is one discussable book. Though, perhaps, for different reasons.

The art is certainly distinguished — excellent in execution and pictorial interpretation, appropriate in style for the story and mood, with plenty of child appeal. I don’t think the quality of the art will be in dispute here. Look how the palette gradually changes from soft and pale and airy in the beginning to dark and stark at the climax/nadir of the boys’ adventure and then back to soft and pale at the end. Look at how the considerable white space (well, actually, soft creamy space) at the beginning is gradually encroached upon as the horizon rises and the hole gets deeper. Look at how Klassen makes the earthen landscape so varied and textured and interesting without necessarily drawing our eye to it. Look at the contrast between the softness and texture of the art with the sparseness of the compositions and the clean edges of the white space/tunnel. Both the art and the book design use geometric shapes to great effect. The art, through the tunnel’s rectangles (echoed, often, in the upright figures of Sam and Dave) and the pentagons of the gems; the book design through the consistently columnar arrangement of the type. (Sometimes the art is columnar, too. Near the end, particularly. The wide vertical tunnels in the center of the page. The figures falling through space, vertically arranged in the center of the page.)

The interplay between text and art is perfect; this is a true, interdependent picture book. The simplicity and mundaneness of the text (“On Monday Sam and Dave dug a hole”; snacking on chocolate milk and animal cookies) contrasts humorously with the increasing wildness of the situation and exaggerated size of the gems the boys JUST miss as they dig. There’s also an implied contrast: between the boys’ limited perspective (ie, complete obliviousness) and the reader’s omniscient perspective. Not to mention the dog’s. That dog Knows All. Klassen’s ability to telegraph the dog’s bewildered awareness is brilliant: so simply, using just the eyes, whether it’s looking at the reader with a “what next?” appeal or directly at the buried, just-missed gems or, at book’s end, taking in the anomalies of the backyard in which they have just landed.

Ah, the ending. Yes, we’ve arrived at the discussable part. What happened?!? Where ARE they? The backyard looks the same, but the details are different: different tree, flowers, weathervane. (And either a different cat or a cat wearing a different collar.) Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes put forth a few theories, including It Was All a Dream and — my own favorite — They Have Entered an Alternate Reality. But whatever theory you subscribe to, there is no doubt that this is one open-ended story. (As Sam Bloom put it in his Horn Book Magazine review, “All that’s missing from the trippy conclusion is the theme music from The Twilight Zone. Mind-blowing in the best possible way.”) The story has just begun, it seems. What happens after the last page?

And there’s the rub. Will this Caldecott committee be intrigued by the possibilities or frustrated by the lack of closure? I hope it’s the former. There’s so much to appreciate about this child-friendly, carefully conceived and constructed, funny, provocative book.

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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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