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In the interest of transparency: I love the art of Brian Karas, from his early reader books to poetry  and everything in between. I have never met him, though I have been tempted to friend him on Facebook, which places me in the near-stalker camp. I still talk about last year’s Clever Jack Takes the Cake, sighing whenever I see it on the shelf of the library or a bookstore.


So, when I saw that Norton Juster and Brian Karas had joined forces in Neville, I grabbed a copy for my home library.

And how is Neville? Fabulous.

And here is why:

The title and copyright pages. Little nearly-abstract paintings show both the passage of time and start the story of Someone Moving to a New Place. (I am an Army brat, so my empathy fountain gushes overtime when a child in a book has to move.)

Use of white space. Opening spread: little guy, nearly in the middle, surrounded by white, lonely space. That truck, fading off the page, balances the little tract homes on the left, allowing the art to show emotion with little bathos. Everything is linear, everything except our hero’s round, oversized head, which we can only see from the back. We all know how he feels watching that truck drive away; we can feel the tears on those unseen cheeks.  Karas’s work is labeled “mixed media,” but it looks like colored pencil to me. Throughout the book, Karas uses white space to surround everyone’s emotion, whether the boy is trudging down the block or hollering his feelings. Just marvel at how the white space changes with every page turn, as color is added, just one sign that this little boy’s life is going to be okay.

Karas uses frames to their full effect too. Sometimes he frames overly small paintings to show emotion. (Look at those little snapshots when his mother says, “Just give it a chance.”) And other times Neville’s story can only bleed off the page. Pink frames him when a little girl befriends him.  Karas uses subtle color changes to mark the passing of one day, all the way to a darkened kiss goodnight.

It’s so nice to read a story where a child handles things on his own—a couple words and a hug from mom and he is on his own. The pictures show every little bit of it.

I know there are those of you who want Caldecott medals to grace a book of illustrations that might hang on the wall of a museum.  I get that.  But I think it’s okay for an honored book to hang on the peg of a child’s heart, being read over and over.

Talk amongst yourselves.

Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. Barb Gogan says:

    While I read I Want My Hat Back to the 2nd graders, I read this to the 1st graders and it was a wonderful book to introduce the idea of analyzing illustrations for a possible Caldecott award. Other than what you already mentioned, we loved the use of color and pattern to indicate speakers (yellow-green for the first ‘yelling helper’ or the plaid of the edge of the covers). And oh, the front and back covers were discussed for many minutes!

  2. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Thanks for noticing those details. I love seeing that. When folks sit around the Caldecott table, talking about a book, they pop up with details like this all the time. I bet kids would love imagining and drawing their names in color and swirl like Karas did. Might have to try that with my students when I read it with them. My husband just brought in a question about what is showing through the window as Neville sleeps on the last page. The word “Neville?”

    There are so many little tidbits to savor, aren’t there? I love how Karas uses the back of Neville’s head to allow the reader to think about what he is thinking or feeling at the very moment. I wonder how much (if any) communication there was between Juster and Karas as the illustrations were being created. It feels particularly well integrated.

    Thanks for adding to the discussion.

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