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Reviews of the 2012 Robert F. Sibert winners

Balloons Over BroadwayWinner: Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet; illus. by the author (Houghton)
At Macy’s department store, marionette maker Tony Sarg started inside and worked his way out. He designed mechanical storybook figures for Macy’s window displays before inventing the giant balloon characters that would become the signature feature of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Sweet’s whimsical mixed-media collages, embellished with little dolls she made herself out of odds and ends, reinforce the theme that, for Sarg, work was play. He loved his job just as much as the cheering crowds loved his balloons (one of Sweet’s watercolor illustrations shows open-mouthed children fairly dancing with delight). Sweet runs through the various problems Sarg had to solve before his behemoths could fly: “He would have to make much larger puppets in order for them to be seen in the parade. And how could he make them strong enough to hold up in bad weather yet light enough to move up and down the streets?” (He hired a blimp manufacturer in Ohio to create his designs out of rubberized silk.) His biggest concern was that the balloons seem animated, that they move like puppets, so he came up with the idea to control them like marionettes, only with the control strings on the bottom instead of the top. Thus, thanks to Tony Sarg, SpongeBob soars. An author’s note and source list are appended. CHRISTINE M. HEPPERMANN


Honor: Black & White by Larry Dane Brimner (Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills)
Review in The Horn Book Guide, spring 2012
Brimner’s well-researched text, centered on Birmingham, Alabama, chronicles the often bloody confrontations between the forces of freedom fighter Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and segregationist Eugene “Bull” Connor. Sidebars include additional historical details (e.g., Emmett Till’s murder, McCarthyism). Many well-captioned archival photographs and pull-quotes enhance the presentation. Reading list. Ind. HMS


Drawing from MemoryHonor: Drawing from Memory by Allen Say; illus. by the author (Scholastic)
Starred review in The Horn Book Magazine, September/October 2011
Covering roughly the same period as the artist’s autobiographical novel The Ink-Keeper’s Apprentice (rev. 6/79), this rendering of Say’s adolescence takes the form of an album, with text, photographs, drawings, and paintings all enlisted to convey events. At the center of the book, as before, is Say’s relationship with his sensei, Noro Shinpei, a popular cartoonist in postwar Japan who took Say on as an apprentice when the boy was only thirteen. Say includes several of his teacher’s cartoons in this book, which is harmoniously designed to allow the great variety of images room to work together without crowding. For example, in a sequence illustrating the riot in which Say and fellow student Tokida find themselves, a tidy ink-and-watercolor sketch of the orderly student demonstration is followed by an ominous painting, all blacks and grays, of the waiting police, with a concluding gestural ink sketch of the clash between the two groups. Throughout, you can see canny artistic choices being made — color here, monochrome there, a cartoon, a snapshot — that reinforce content with appropriate form. Where The Ink-Keeper’s Apprentice was an intense and often gritty portrait of an awakening artist, Drawing from Memory is more discreet and rather more recollected in tranquility, placing a coming-of-age story within the context of a long life and vocation. ROGER SUTTON


Honor: The Elephant Scientist [Scientists in the Field] by Caitlin O’Connell and Donna M. Jackson; photos by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell  (Houghton)
Review in The Horn Book Magazine, November/December 2011
Scientist O’Connell’s contributions to our understanding of elephant communication propel this account of scientific research in action. O’Connell and Jackson focus on the ways in which these animals communicate through vibrations sent through the ground, a technique O’Connell first observed in her masters degree work with insects, and later with African elephants in Namibia. They describe the findings in a way that lets readers witness the unfolding of a research program, as hypotheses lead to new insights that beget even more questions. Featured are observations of animal behavior, lab-based examinations of the cells in elephant feet and trunks that facilitate vibration sensing, and experiments with varying sounds and their effects on elephant herds. The many color photographs, predominantly from the Namibian field sites, capture the majestic elder elephants, their always-appealing offspring, and the dusty, rugged landscapes in which the scientists and research assistants camp and work. Readers are directed to the website of the nonprofit organization founded by O’Connell and her husband, where they can view video of the communication experiments. Further reading, a glossary, selected source notes, and an index are appended. DANIELLE J. FORD


Honor: Witches!: The Absolutely True Story of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer (National Geographic)
Review in The Horn Book Guide, spring 2012
Schanzer (How We Crossed the West: The Adventures of Lewis and Clark) turns her attention to the Salem Witch Trials to powerful effect. Her small book, complete with scratchboard illustrations and vivid red accents, recounts the horrors of the witch-hunting hysteria. The organization and illustrations are helpful for keeping the complex material manageable for the audience. Bib., ind. MVK

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