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Where’s Mommy?

wheres mommyTravis Jonker recently documented the overlap between the New York Times Best Illustrated List and books that have won Caldecott recognition — well done, Travis! — and since there’s no arguing with cold, hard facts, we here at Calling Caldecott are paying attention. By my reckoning, half the books on the 2014 NYT List are eligible for consideration, and we’ll try to cover as many of those as we can over the next two months.   

Barbara McClintock’s Where’s Mommy? (written by Beverly Donofrio) is loaded with visual appeal. Part of it for me is the expansiveness of the pages contrasted with the level of detail in the illustrations. The compositions are so clean that they can accommodate an enormous amount of clutter without looking cluttered. Here’s one way you can tell I am not an artist myself: I have no idea how McClintock accomplishes this. Take the double-page spread showing the the living spaces of the house’s two families: the human family gathered in their living room, reading (some together, some individually; the dad on an e-reader!); the mouse family doing the same, below the floorboards. There is so much detail in that spread that it could have been overwhelming, but instead the picture is pleasing to the eye. (I do know that part of the appeal is that the colors are so harmonious.) The instinct is to linger on the page to see every detail. Notice, for instance, that the mouse family has an iPod set up with earbuds mounted to the wall as speakers. It’s only after I’d drunk in a ton of like details that I finally noticed protagonists Maria and Mouse Mouse sharing a corner of the page (and the house) — and we learn that theirs is a secret friendship. And away goes the story.

Not all of the spreads in the book are so saturated and detailed; spreads with generous white space use series of vignettes to advance the action and focus on character — it gives readers the chance to see Mouse Mouse on the same scale as Maria. We see her closer up, and get a clearer sense of her personality.

I really like how the speech balloons are used in the art: they often give pages a needed focal point, and the hand-lettering communicates the increasing sense of urgency as Maria and Mouse Mouse search for their mothers.

I question neither the excellence of the artistic presentation nor the appeal to a child audience. The secret friendship, the parallel worlds of the human and mouse families, the Borrowers-like furnishings of the mouse family, the mystery of the missing mothers, and all the things to look at. This is a book children will pore over — even explore. Kudos to the NYT Best Illustrated judges for bringing attention to this book.


Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.



  1. Sam Bloom says:

    Man, do I love this book. Earlier this year I had just read the first Littles book to my daughter, and then this came out; perfect timing! And you’re right, Martha, the level of detail is insane but not seizure-inducing. I too am clueless as to how she pulls it off, but there’s no question in my mind that McClintock really and truly did pull it off big time.

  2. I loved the illustrations in this one. So much. It’s been a while since I looked at it, so I don’t remember too many specifics, but it was a lot of fun to compare and contrast the two homes, and to see living spaces that felt very real, not generic. I think the only thing that held me back on this one was that I loved the pictures so much more than the story – cute, but it didn’t have that magical combination of words/story + pictures that marks the best Caldecott stuff for me. I would have been totally happy just looking at the pictures. But now I want to look at it again to see if that’s true.

  3. Susan Dailey says:

    Martha, I have a question for you. You say that you think half of the books aren’t eligible. According to what I’ve found, four of the books have illustrators that aren’t eligible–“Shackleton’s Journey,” “Time for Bed, Fred,” “Promise” and “Haiti, My Country: Poems .” What is the other book that you don’t think is eligible and why?

  4. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Susan, maybe “eligible” isn’t the right word. But although I find both the poetry and the art in HARLEM HELFIGHTERS absolutely stunning, I see it as an illustrated book rather than a picture book. True, the poems proceed chronologically, so there is a progression through the book that is picture-book-like. But to my mind the art functions to illustrate and explicate and deepen the particular poem it accompanies. There isn’t any use of the page turn; each page or spread is complete unto itself. It’s the text that impels the reader to turn the pages, not the art.

    What say others? Picture book or illustrated book?

  5. Susan Dailey says:

    Thanks for the explanation, Martha. I haven’t seen this book so I can’t address this. I’ll have to keep the page turn in mind though when I look at picture books. I love, love, love Kadir Nelson’s work, but wonder if page turns are sometimes an issue in his books.

  6. Not sure if HARLEM HELFIGHTERS is an illustrated book or a picture book, but either way it is absolutely stunning. My own copy just arrived last week – somehow it has slipped outside my radar when it released earlier this year. It did not of course appeal to the first graders, but that is to be expected for a number of reasons. But certainly one of the most distinguished releases this year. I do hope it is eligible.

    Also: I want to mention here that I received my copy of THE IRIDESCENCE OF BIRDS yesterday, and am simply overwhelmed. My, you people weren’t kidding when you praised this to the hilt a few weeks ago. OMG. Sublimity incarnate. This is the first I heard of Hadley Hooper (she did one book before I see) but of course Patricia MacLachlan is a children’s literature icon. But the color coordination, the ravishing art-related tapestries and one of the most arresting covers of any book this year—I just can only say by any barometer of measurement this is without a doubt one of the very best picture books of the year. I am grateful to have discovered it through all of you.

  7. Talking of Barbara McClintock… have you seen My Grandfather’s Coat?

    It’s amazing. I’ve always loved Barbara McClintock, but she is seriously having an outstanding year, even by her own high standards.

  8. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    I have been talking about Harlem Hellfighters a lot and I love the art and the story. However, Martha took the words out of my mouth when she talked about the page turn. Each spread lives all by itself. But, man, I love the art.

    I finally got my hands on a copy of Where’s Mommy? last night and, wow. I read it to my second graders and it was fun when they did not want my to turn the page just so they could see just how many items from the human world were mirrored in the mouse house. There is a LOT to see here and talk about here and that bodes well for the committee discussion. AND, it has a lot kid appeal too, which I like.

  9. When oh when will McClintock win? My Grandfather’s Coat is perfection. I’ve often wondered if her work just isn’t edgy enough for a medal. But it sure deserves recognition.

  10. I absolutely adore McClintock and I definitely think this year’s MY GRANDFATHER’S COAT should be a serious contender. I’m not as taken with WHERE’S MOMMY? and this may be because I’ve read it too many times. I have issues that might be entirely my own, but I wonder if folks have noticed them. As far as I can tell, there are three little oddities in the art. First, look at the foot of Martha Graham in the poster on Maria’s wall at the beginning of the book and at the end. Did you notice that it’s changed? Toes have disappeared. Next, generally McClintock is very good with the accuracy in mouse feet, but the older sister’s feet have a distinctly human look. Finally, Maria notes that her mommy is out because her sweater is off the hook. She finds mommy but when she does? No sweater. These are probably mere quibbles but since I adored MARY AND THE MOUSE, THE MOUSE AND MARY I found them a bit odd.

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