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Reviews of 2013 CSK Illustrator Award winners

I, Too, Am America by Langston HughesWinner: I, Too, Am America by  Langston Hughes; Bryan Collier (Simon)
Steeped in flag symbolism, Collier’s mixed-media illustrations show Hughes’s “darker brother” as a Pullman porter who collects “items left behind” and distributes passengers’ newspapers, record albums, etc., to other African Americans along the train’s route. As he explains in a lengthy artist’s note, Collier provides a “visual story line” based on the “true actions of Pullman porters” for this iconic poem. HENRIETTA M. SMITH


H.O.R.S.E. by Christopher MyersHonor: H. O. R. S. E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination by Christopher Myers; illus. by the author (Egmont)
When two boys with big imaginations and lots of bravado meet on the basketball court and agree to play a game of horse (where players take turns making the same trick shots), the game quickly gets out of hand—literally, as it becomes all about wordplay. The boys instead take turns describing the wildly impossible shots they’ll take—from the tops of buildings, after circumventing the globe, and from outer space. Each imagined shot builds on the last, upping the ante in what becomes a clever verbal version of horse. Myers’s graceful illustrations use his signature combination of gouache painting and cut-paper collages using photographs as backgrounds, but there is more painting than collage here, and consequently, more space for the imagination to take flight. We see the bragging twosome, face to face, working up to their shots, and then we are treated to dynamic full-page spreads of what each shot would look like. Large bold typography, printed in brown for the dialogue of one boy and dark blue for the other, twists and curls around the page, tracing the movement of the ball—or the movement the ball would make if the two boys ever stopped talking and started playing. This crowd-pleasing picture book will appeal to young children who will enjoy the whimsy, and to older readers who will appreciate the Dozens (in reverse) in the boys’ challenges to each other. KATHLEEN T. HORNING

Ellen's Broom by Kelly Starling LyonsHonor: Ellen’s Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons; illus. by Daniel Minter (Putnam)
Newly freed slaves, Ellen and her family are thrilled to learn that “all former slaves living as husband and wife” will be allowed to legally register their marriages. Her mother explains the custom of jumping over a broomstick to symbolize a union even though couples were frequently separated and sold away. Vibrant linoleum block prints capture the purposeful story’s moods. HENRIETTA M. SMITH


I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr.Honor: I Have a Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King, Jr.; illus. by Kadir Nelson (Schwatrz & Wade/Random)
In superlative oil paintings, Nelson brings to life Dr. King’s most famous speech, and the one children are most likely to know. Nelson has chosen to illustrate the section that specifically addresses the dream, beginning with the words “I say to you today, my friends, that even though we face the difficulty of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” The accompanying illustration depicts Dr. King standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, addressing the crowd at the March on Washington. The pages that follow show scenes from the event as well as more literal illustrations of Dr. King’s words: black children and white children playing together, a black hand clasping a white hand, and his own “four little children.” When we reach the climactic “Let freedom ring…” part of the speech, two stunning double-page spreads show interconnected panels of the “prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire” and the “snowcapped Rockies of Colorado,” ultimately linked with “every hill and molehill of Mississippi,” in a sweeping vista. At the end, we return to a larger-than-life close-up of Dr. King’s impassioned face, the hopeful faces of the audience, and finally white doves flying against a blue sky, representing the words “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” The complete text of the speech is printed at the back of the book, and an accompanying CD is also included [unseen]. Visually, this is a stunning accomplishment that embodies the thrilling inspiration of Dr. King’s words as he first spoke them. KATHLEEN T. HORNING

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