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Gravity

GravityIn the past, Jason Chin has added a fantasy element to his information books. In Redwoods, for instance, a boy in the city reads about the redwood forest and is transported there, returning to his urban reality at the end of the book.

In Gravity, Chin has gone fully meta: the children we see are not reading about gravity, but the very book we are holding causes gravity to change around those children. On each spread, we see the book exerting its influence on a boy at the beach or, in a mystery-solving spread at the end, four girls at a lemonade stand. On each spread, the text is coming true for them.

While Gravity has the obligatory information in smaller print at the end of the book, the text on the first 29 pages is so spare that it doesn’t feel like an information book. In fact, the entire book (pre-endmatter) is shorter than the text on a single page of many other picture books. Here it is in full:

Gravity makes objects fall to earth. Without gravity everything would float away. The moon would drift away from the earth. The earth would drift away from the sun. Luckily, everything has gravity. Massive things have a lot of gravity…and their gravity pulls on smaller things. Gravity keeps the earth near the sun, the moon near the earth, and makes objects fall to earth.

Okay, enough about the concept and treatment. The committee isn’t allowed to consider Chin’s previous books, and they’re not supposed to be so concerned with all this text business. So what about art and design?

See that astronaut and spaceship on the cover — the cover that looks suspiciously like the Sandra Bullock/George Clooney movie of the same name? They are actually toys, and the half-peeled banana and beach ball floating nearby will be explained inside the book. The cover looks like the movie poster because the type treatment is the same: white against deep dark space, all caps, sans serif, and with generous kerning.  V E R Y   S E R I O U S .  Chin uses the same all-caps type inside the book, doling it out just a few words at a time. Those words become essential to the balance of each spread’s design.

I’ve been a fan of Chin’s art for a while, and I hope the fact that this book takes it up a notch will gain him even more fans. He hits a balance between humor and drama here with sweeping vistas and large objects — childlike objects like a plastic beach shovel that are given monumental treatment, á là 2001: A Space Odyssey. But humor and detail are key here. See that half-peeled banana? Watch how it gets progressively browner throughout the book. (Though I wonder whether it really would get browner without oxygen?) And what’s up with that pitcher and those lemons? All will be explained, especially when you read it again and again. Chin’s use of light and dark is extreme here and proves that he’s an artist. So often, I think, we assume a picture book shows us the “best” style of art the illustrator is capable of. In fact, most have many styles under their belts, including some that are a lot more serious and closer to what people might call “fine” art, but they choose something lighter and more humorous because it suits the text they are working with. Here, Chin has an good excuse to show his painting chops.

It’s Friday, and the holidays are approaching, so I wonder (like Sandra Bullock) whether there’s really anyone out there. But if you are, I hope you will weigh in (sorry) and tell us what you think of this one. Does it have a chance?

 

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.

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Comments

  1. Ha, that would certainly be something if Sandra Bullock would check in here, Lolly! In preparation for this review, I secured a copy of the book, and needless to say was mightily impressed. Can well understand why you are smitten with Chin’s art, and love your well deserved reference to Kubrick’s film. I was also thinking in those terms while reading (and being ravished) by these stunning illustrations. In any case, I do agree that the cover has more than a striking resemblance to Cuaron’s film, and feel the book, epic in scope, brings is humor and drama seamlessly.

    Definitely deserving of be spoken of in the Caldecott equation. Beautifully written piece here.

  2. I appreciate how the text becomes part of the art on each page. The “float away” page has the letters doing just that, and the size of the font on some spreads give a concrete example of what the text is explaining. I find this book more and more distinguished each time I revisit it.

  3. This is one of my favorites of the year. It rewards rereading with all the little details, including the book-within-a-book framing. I love the detail of the banana peeking out at the bottom of one spread, and the stories being told exclusively through the illustrations of the boy at the beach and the girls at their lemonade stand. It reminds me of some of David Weisner’s Caldecott recognized titles in a good way, and I hope it won’t be overlooked by the real committee. I also appreciated that the illustrations of the back matter on gravity are notable as well. I don’t have the book in front of me, but I recall the humorously straining strong man as one example.

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