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Reviews of the 2012 CSK Illustrator Award winners

Winner: Shane W. Evans for Underground (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Review in The Horn Book Magazine, January/February 2011
With dramatic images and minimal narrative, Evans projects a “we-are-there” experience of fugitives on the run, escaping slavery. The figures are eerily disembodied, and many of the double-page spreads feature a two-word text such as “The darkness” or “The fear” or “We run.” White stars (not apparently resembling the Big Dipper–North Star guide) stand out against a richly textured midnight blue, as do the triangular whites of the fugitives’ eyes and the bold white typeface itself. A golden sun rises on the final view of freedom, and while a few of the scenes are ambiguous (with both escaping slaves and bounty hunters sometimes characterized by large-brimmed hats), the action will become clear to children who have been primed with background information. Neither the note, which includes facts about U.S. slavery, nor the text refers specifically to African Americans as the oppressed group, but the back cover, concluding pages, and iconic clothing convey racial identity. Parents and teachers discussing black history with five- and six year-olds can follow contextual explanations with this visually intense evocation, ideally paired with other books, for slightly older readers, such as Carole Boston Weatherford’s Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. BETSY HEARNE


Heart and SoulHonor: Kadir Nelson for Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
Starred review in The Horn Book Magazine, November/December 2011
“Most folks my age and complexion don’t speak much about the past,” begins the unnamed narrator of this graceful and personalized overview of African-American history. But this doesn’t stop her from telling the story in a sweeping account that succinctly covers history from the Colonial era to the present day. The aged woman tells of her own grandfather, who was captured in Africa at age six and illegally sold into slavery in 1850. From Pap’s story, we get a sense of what it was like to be a slave, a Union soldier, a sharecropper during Reconstruction, and a Buffalo soldier in Oklahoma; eventually he heads north to Chicago as part of the Great Migration. From there, the narrator takes over with a first-person narrative that includes the women’s suffrage movement, the Depression, World War II, and the civil rights movement, and ends with the pride she felt voting for President Obama. “As I cast my vote, I thought about my grandfather Pap, who didn’t live to see this moment, and my three children and two brothers, who did.” As in We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball (rev. 5/08), Nelson effectively creates a voice that is at once singular and representative. Each page of text is accompanied by a magnificent oil painting, most of which are moving portraits—some of famous figures such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, and Joe Louis; others of unnamed African-Americans, such as a Revolutionary War soldier, a child cleaning cotton, and a factory worker. The illustrations (forty-seven in all, including six dramatic double-page spreads), combined with the narrative, give us a sense of intimacy, as if we are hearing an elder tell stories as we look at an album of family photographs. A tour de force in the career of an author/artist who continues to outdo himself. KATHLEEN T. HORNING

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