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Reviews of the 2013 Caldecott winners

This is Not My Hat by Jon KlassenWinner: This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen; illus. by the author (Candlewick Press)
The eyes have it in Klassen’s latest (I Want My Hat Back, rev. 11/11) hat book. Klassen manages to tell almost the whole story through subtle eye movements and the tilt of seaweed and air bubbles. The wide-eyed little fish on the cover looks guilty. He is. He has taken the tiny bowler from the head of a sleeping fish and pleads his case to the reader. He explains why he will never be caught—the big fish is asleep, he won’t wake up or notice the missing hat, and he won’t know who took it or where the thief has gone. He continues to flee the scene of the crime, moving to “where the plants are big and tall and close together.” Once he reaches his destination, the reader sees the little guy for the last time, disappearing amongst the “safety” of the seaweed. The final spread is laugh-out-loud funny: the large fish now sports the teeny hat, eyes closed and relaxed in slumber. The seaweed wafts innocently, and the air bubbles are calm. Since every claim the little fish makes is belied by the pictures, the reader is in on the joke, in turn rooting for the little guy to get away and nervously hoping he is caught. Klassen continues to be the master of black and brown, and the viewer will not tire of the palette. Little eyes will pore over the end pages, looking for evidence of foul play, but all the interaction between the two characters takes place where the plants grow tall and close together, obscuring the view. Darkly hilarious. ROBIN L. SMITH

Creepy Carrots by Aaron ReynoldsHonor: Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds; illus. by Peter Brown (Simon)
review to come






Extra Yard by Mac BarnettHonor: Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett; illus. by Jon Klassen (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)
When young Annabelle finds a small box containing yarn of every color, she does what any self-respecting knitter would do: she knits herself a sweater. Then she knits a sweater for her dog. Improbably, there’s yarn left over, so she knits colorful garments for everyone in her snowy, sooty, colorless town. Even Mr. Crabtree, “who never wore sweaters or even long pants, and who would stand in his shorts with the snow up to his knees,” receives a hand-knit gift: a hat with a pompom. Houses and buildings, too, are soon covered in natty sweaters, and fans of illustrator Klassen will smile to see critters strongly resembling the bear and rabbit from I Want My Hat Back (rev. 11/11) clad in variegated yarn cozies. When Annabelle, ever content to click-click away, refuses an archduke’s offer of millions for the box and its never-ending yarn, he steals it. Turns out the magic lies elsewhere (perhaps the hands and heart of a little girl?), and all is made right. Klassen’s mostly brown ink and digitally created illustrations pair nicely with the translucent, lightly inked knitwear. His pacing, especially the mostly wordless sequence when the box floats back to Annabelle on a triangle of an iceberg, is impeccable, allowing the reader to guess what’s going on. The final spread, all light and knitted tress limbs, brings Barnett’s clever, quiet yarn full circle, to a little girl and a town, now colorful and happy. ROBIN L. SMITH

Green by Laura Vaccaro SeegerHonor: Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger; illus. by the author (Porter/Roaring Brook)
Lemons Are Not Red (rev. 1/05) was a concept book about color, so you might think this offering on various shades of a single color would be simpler. But Seeger once again sets up a challenge for herself, adding a rhyming text, die cuts, and perhaps a story for those willing to look carefully for connections. On each spread, two words describe a scene painted in Seeger’s signature thick impasto on canvas: “forest green / sea green / lime green / pea green,” eventually leading to “all green / never green / no green / forever green.” With a color as politically weighted as this one, what could have been a hit-‘em-over-the-head message is instead left open-ended, allowing the book to work for very young children (for whom the “never green” red stop sign could be taken at face value) or for an older audience willing to speculate on ecological issues and sustainability. The die cuts add another level of complexity and playfulness. Just when we think we’ve worked out that each cut on a right-hand page shows the next shade of green, Seeger tricks us with “jungle green / khaki green” showing the words themselves through rectangular die cuts, each adjective camouflaged within the next or previous scene, just as the animals on those spreads are camouflaged within their habitats. There is one slight error in alignment near the end of the book, but this detail is hard to fault in what is otherwise a triumph of artistic problem-solving. Is this the first in a series? We can only hope. LOLLY ROBINSON

One Cool Friend by Toni BuzzeoHonor: One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo; illus. by David Small (Dial/Penguin)
Dressed in a black suit and bow tie, it’s clear that Elliot isn’t like other kids his age. When his father (himself eccentrically dressed all in green plaid) takes him to the aquarium, Eliot heads for the penguins. “In their tidy black feather tuxedos with their proper posture, they reminded Eliot of himself,” which leads him to ask his father for a penguin. Thinking his son wants to buy a plush version, his father agrees and Eliot proceeds to pick out a real penguin to take home in his backpack. The story continues as the precocious child must figure out how to feed and care for his new pet, Magellan. As the illustrations reveal, the whole scenario works because the father is so focused on his own obsession with turtles that he is humorously oblivious — until the surprise ending — to what Eliot is doing. Inspired by urban legend, Buzzeo has crafted a droll narrative replete with cartoon speech bubbles that add a blitheness to the page design. Expanding on the text, Small’s illustrations capture the unusual personalities of this unique father-son duo by hinting at each one’s propensity for a particular animal. And the sketched ink and loosely colored illustrations also add an appropriate lighthearted contrast to the genteel lives of Eliot and his father. Suitable for both story time and closer observation, the illustrations (including the comical Magellan) complement the child-friendly premise and will certainly attract young readers to this quirky tale. CYNTHIA K. RITTER

Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary LogueHonor: Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue; illus. by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin)
It’s a familiar story: the child doesn’t want to go to bed; the parents insist she does. A little scootering girl “who didn’t want to go to sleep even though the sun had gone away” asks her parents if everything in the world sleeps. Her parents assure her that dogs and cats, bats and whales, snails and bears and even tigers sleep. Eventually, the little girl mimics the animals her parents have described and slowly falls asleep herself. Zagarenski’s dreamy mixed-media illustrations are as calm and comforting as Logue’s understated prose. Stylized characters, extra-pale and often wearing crowns, feet perched on a variety of wheels, live in a surreal world of giant moons and random teapots and coffeepots. Each spread invites the reader to slow down, breathe deeply, and explore the world found in the illustrations. Is there a teapot on every page? Is everything and everyone on wheels? Is the tiger carrying the sun off the page on his back? It’s impossible to see everything the first or tenth time, ensuring that parents (who will surely read this over and over) never lose interest and that wide-awake children will have little choice but to eventually join our little girl, curled in her nest, wings folded like a bat, in a warm spot like the cat, fast asleep, like the strong tiger. Night, night. ROBIN L. SMITH

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