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Reviews of the 2012 Caldecott winners

A Ball for DaisyWinner: A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka; illus. by the author (Schwartz & Wade/Random)
Starred review in The Horn Book Magazine, September/October 2011
The wordless story begins on the title page, where we see a scruffy little black-and-white dog about to be given a big red ball. It’s clear from the start that Daisy loves her new toy. After playing with it inside, she cuddles up with the ball on the sofa and contentedly falls asleep. The real drama begins with a trip to the park, where Daisy and her little-girl owner play catch and have a moment of panic when the ball goes over a fence and has to be rescued. All goes well until another dog shows up, joins in the play, and pops the ball. It’s a long walk home with gloomy Daisy, and the subsequent nap on the couch is lonely. In fact, the two contrasting double-page spreads of Daisy napping, with the ball and without it, show the ingenious artistry of Raschka, who communicates so much emotion through her posture. Throughout, Raschka uses broad strokes of gray and black paint to outline the dog, and varies the line to echo her emotions: bold, sure lines when Daisy is happy; shaky, squiggly lines when she is upset. Background watercolor washes also reflect Daisy’s mood, going from bright yellows and greens to somber purples and browns. Raschka employs a series of horizontal frames to show sequential action, interspersed with occasional single paintings to show pivotal moments, such as the moment near the end of the book when Daisy gets a brand-new ball, this time a blue one, from the owner of the dog who destroyed her first one. It’s a satisfying conclusion to a story that is noteworthy for both its artistry and its child appeal. KATHLEEN T. HORNING


BlackoutHonor: Blackout by John Rocco; illus. by the author (Hyperion)
Review in The Horn Book Guide, fall 2011
One summer night, when there’s a blackout in the city, a family abandons its electrical gadgets and spends time together, venturing outside to join a spontaneous neighborhood party. After the electricity comes back on, everyone decides to ignore it and play a board game instead. The comic strip format enhances the spare text, while the illustrations are dramatically illuminated by candles and flashlights. MFS


Honor: Grandpa Green by Lane Smith; illus. by the author (Roaring Brook)
Review in The Horn Book Magazine, September/October 2011
As his “great-grandkid” narrates Grandpa Green’s life, the old man himself depicts its major events in his own felicitous medium: topiary, rendered by Smith in multimedia shades and shadows of evergreen that (save for a few embellishing tendrils) pretty much adhere to the possibilities of boxwood shaped by the master Grandpa is. Meanwhile, the boy (an expressive little figure porting garden tools, in graceful strokes of ink on spacious white) observes and interacts with these topiary memorials to Grandpa’s past: a giant carrot (“He grew up on a farm”) nibbled by present-day bunnies; characters from books Grandpa enjoyed as a child; the girl he kissed in middle school. Touches of red are significant: the Cowardly Lion’s topknot; when Grandpa goes to war, botanical cannon fire (recalling Drummer Hoff); for his marriage, a heart. Rounding out the story are the boy finding Grandpa’s glasses for him (“He used to remember everything”); a wide, ancient tree whose leaves represent the four seasons, left to right; and Grandpa creating a new work that’s revealed — in a double fold that recapitulates the book — to be the boy. From a jacket image of the entranced child watching Grandpa shape an elephant to a last view of that child fashioning a topiary Grandpa, a thoughtful, eloquent, and elegantly illustrated book to explore, consider, and read again. JOANNA RUDGE LONG


Me...JaneHonor:  Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell; illus. by the author (Little, Brown)
Starred review in The Horn Book Magazine, March/April 2011
Where Jeanette Winter’s The Watcher (rev. p. 144) devotes just five of its forty-eight pages to Jane Goodall’s childhood, Me…Jane devotes all but two spreads to the great primatologist’s formative years. And despite its rather cheeky title (justified by the young Jane’s devotion to Edgar Rice Burroughs), McDonnell’s book is the more inspirational. His Jane, along with her stuffed toy chimp Jubilee, studies nature wherever and however she can; as with Winter’s book, Jane’s observation of a hen laying an egg is highlighted as a key moment. But study is only part of the picture, as Jane rejoices in the simple activity of just being outdoors: “It was a magical world full of joy and wonder, and Jane felt very much a part of it.” Jane dreams of traveling to Africa and, in a wonderful sequence of page turns, goes to sleep [page turn], wakes up an adult in her tent [page turn], and is living her “dream come true.” And here McDonnell’s homey, earth-toned pen and watercolor pictures give way to that most famous of all Goodall photographs, where the young scientist and an even younger chimp reach across their worlds to touch hands. The simple and intimate paintings are accented with casually arrayed stamped motifs and some of Goodall’s childhood drawings; a note about Goodall’s current projects and “A Message from Jane” are appended. ROGER SUTTON

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