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Reviews of the 2014 Caldecott Award winners

locomotiveWinner: star2Locomotive by Brian Floca; illus. by the author (Jackson/Atheneum)
Talk about a youth librarian’s dream come true: a big new book about those ever-popular trains from a bona fide picture-book-nonfiction all-star. Striking cinematic endpapers lay the groundwork, describing the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s. Then, in a sort of historical-fiction-meets-travelogue narrative, Floca zeroes in on one family’s journey from Omaha to San Francisco. Floca excels at juxtaposing sweeping panoramas with intimate, slice-of-life moments: here a widescreen shot of the train chugging across the Great Plains; later a vignette at a “dollar for dinner” hash house (“If the chicken tastes like prairie dog, don’t ask why,” cautions the narrator). Varied font sizes and styles on the large pages beautifully capture the onomatopoeia (“Hisssssssss”; “huff huff huff ”; “chug-chug chug-chug chug-chug”) of the train and the feel of the Old West. One spread finds the train precariously crossing a trestle (“The train is so heavy, the bridge is so narrow, and rickety rickety rickety!”); the concluding ricketys are displayed in an appropriately jarring shadowed font alongside a picture of passengers shaking — and praying — in their seats. Luckily, our family makes it safely to its destination: “the country’s far corners have been pulled together…thanks to the locomotive.” An author’s note and thorough discussion of the sources used are included, and don’t miss the back endpapers — the steam power diagram would make David Macaulay proud. SAM BLOOM

journeyHonor: Journey by Aaron Becker; illus. by the author (Candlewick)
In the tradition of Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon (rev. 10/55), this wordless story shows a bored young girl living in a monochromatic world who is able to draw herself into other worlds with the help of a red crayon she finds on her bedroom floor. Unlike Harold, the worlds she enters into are lush and detailed — a deep green forest with blue hanging lanterns, an elaborate castle with an intricate canal system for transportation, a multilevel steampunk airship carrying ominous soldiers, and a walled city in the desert. There are dangers she avoids by drawing herself new forms of transportation, including a hot-air balloon and a magic carpet, and she gets pulled into a rescue mission involving a purple bird, which eventually leads her to a door in a palm tree that takes her back to her own world and to a boy with a purple crayon she had never even noticed outside her apartment building when the story began. He, it seems, had been searching for the purple bird. There is much to pore over in the watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations, and when the boy and girl ride off together at the end on a tandem bicycle with one red wheel and one purple wheel, readers will want to follow them. KATHLEEN T. HORNING

flora and the flamingostar2Honor: Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle; illus. by the author (Chronicle)
A little girl, a pink flamingo, some decorative cherry blossoms, and singular lift-the-flaps contribute to a unique wordless picture book. On the title-page spread, a flamingo gracefully touches down en pointe. The next spread shows the bird perched on one leg, in classic flamingo pose, with another someone poised to enter stage left — all you can see is a flipper. Turn the page and a girl in a pink bathing suit, swimming flippers, and a cheery yellow bathing cap has sidled up behind the flamingo and is mimicking its stance. Each character appears on her own flap which, when flipped down, advances the scene: the bird is now shooting an irritated glance at the girl while she sports an oh-so-innocent, “Who, me?” look. This imitation goes on for a few spreads (including another pair of well-placed flaps) until the flamingo finally relents and begins to teach the girl how to dance, and soon the two are plié-ing and jeté-ing their hearts out in a graceful pas de deux, culminating in a euphoric double-page foldout. Author-illustrator Idle’s work as a DreamWorks animator is apparent throughout. The book is cinematic, comedic, and balletic, with remarkable dynamic pacing facilitated by those ingenious flaps. Spare illustrations in a limited palette, mostly tutu-pinks with pops of yellow on pristine white pages, allow the characters’ physical and emotional chemistry — and the book’s physical comedy — to take center stage. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

mr wufflesstar2Honor: Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner; illus. by the author (Clarion)
Is anything so fraught with potential energy as a stalking cat, or as relaxed as a bored one? Mr. Wuffles disdains all the playthings he’s offered — until, amongst scorned balls and catnip mice, he spies a small spaceship and, entranced, toys with it for a page of dramatically paced frames. A page turn reveals tiny, green-skinned creatures within, upended, regrouping, puzzling over how to repair the damage. Helped by a cat-diverting ladybug, they flee to the space under a radiator, which harbors a thriving insect civilization complete with wall paintings of ants and ladybugs confronting fearsome cats. Despite the language barrier (both the aliens’ and the bugs’ speech are cleverly represented in non-alphabetic speech bubbles), the aliens establish communication with the ants by adding pictures of their recent troubles to the wall. Friendship ensues, food and technology are shared, repairs are made, and the cat is foiled with a heroic escape engineered by insects and green folk working together. This exemplary Wiesnerian blend of ordinary and extraordinary incorporates the delights of Borrowers-style innovations, quintessential cat behavior, and Wiesner’s own exquisitely fashioned art. Moving from the here-and-now to the what-if, he defines points of view with such devices as angled sightlines and wallpaper stripes, and the benignly graceful folds of the little green people’s robes — not to mention black Mr. Wuffles, sweet puss or terror depending on your point of view. Since this is pretty much wordless, it takes some poring over to decode the action and its potent, neatly understated message. It’s well worth it. JOANNA RUDGE LONG



  1. My critique of Floca’s book focused on the recent discussions about diversity. His book is a white family’s perspective. I think there were missed opportunities in the book to make it more inclusive. Mr. Floca responded to my critique.

    In the SLJ “pre-game show,” Betsy Bird noted my critique and its importance.

    Yesterday afternoon, I responded to Mr. Floca. Part of our conversation is on sources. Here’s the link:

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