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floatIs that Peter (of Ezra Jack Keats fame) on the cover of Daniel Miyares’s Float? Might be. There is something inviting about the cover of this gentle wordless book, isn’t there? Slip off the jacket and be wowed by the case cover — a newspaper boat floating off to the right and into the sun.

The use of color, especially the color yellow, moves the story forward. The yellow raincoat, hat, and boots hold the little boy together and allow him to pop off the page. The pink and blue of the folded paper boat allows the boy to recognize his toy, even after it goes down the sewer grate. This quiet, moving story of a toy created, lost, and eventually remade is a nod to both a simpler time and a brighter future. The bright yellow sun on the final pages and the folded boat and paper airplane endpapers add to the charm. Sun and shadow. Rain and clearing. Everything plays together nicely here.

Whenever I’m on a book award committee, I try to get help in looking at art or design that I either love or am confused by. When I was on the Real Committee, I was especially suspicious of my Deep Love for a book. I would often have a strong response and then realize I was unable to articulate why I loved a particular book or style. In a way, this happened here. I loved sharing this book with my second graders but could not quite put my finger on why. I am always drawn to small moments, and this is a small moment. I liked the gray and yellow. But, that’s not enough.

I was not confused by this art, but I was challenged by the use of panels to show the passage of time in Float. There were a couple of other parts that I had questions about as well, mainly the way the little boy’s face changes throughout the book. So I called on an illustrator friend and went through the book with him.

There’s nothing like an actual artist to help teach me a thing or two. First, while I found the use of color— especially the grays — comforting, he found it cold. Okay. There can be different aesthetic senses. Then he turned to the spread that consists of two horizontal panels spanning the gutter, with, at top left, the boy looking back and forth for his lost boat. My illustrator friend remarked that Miyares used the exact same image twice, for both panels. At first I disagreed. I just didn’t see what he was seeing. Gently, he pointed out that the top image is the same as the bottom, except with the yellow boy and zooming boat painted on. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I did see that the image on the top and the image on the bottom of the spread were the same, once it was pointed out. Between the top panel and the bottom panel, time has passed, because the boy has moved, and the panel is the time line, so my artist friend asserts that the images should change from top to bottom. The trees should move? The grasses should shift? Something to think about.

The face of the boy is just a little off somehow to me. As I looked at him over and over, the color tone seems to change from pale to orange to nearly light yellow. When he is getting his hair dried, the boy looks older than a little boy who would be wearing a throwback yellow raincoat. The line of his mouth lacks the rosebud of the earlier pages. It’s no big deal, just something I noticed. As I close the book, I remember how much I love those endpapers, showing how to fold newspaper into boats and aiplanes. I wonder if that really works with such big pieces of paper?

This is all to say that people on the Real Committee should be soliciting the opinion of informed others. I brought Dave the Potter to show a collage artist and a potter. I ran Interrupting Chicken by two art teachers to see if I was imagining Van Gogh into some of the scenes. I consulted online interviews with the Steads to figure out just what Erin’s technique was in A Sick Day with Amos McGee. The committee should be open, open, open to others’ opinions of the book. And then, they deliberate for themselves.

Often on the committee, the chair will bring in an expert to talk to the group. On my year, Judy Zuckerman asked K.T. Horning to talk to us. One of the things K.T. said has always stayed with me: Every single thing on the page is there for a reason. Your job is to figure out why it is there and to see if you agree. Float is going to be in the mix this year. It has that timeless feel and feels new — all at the same time. The committee will have a lot to talk about with it. They will see familiar references to Ezra Jack Keats and will love following the panels and chasing the boat along its journey. There will be people who love it and people who are puzzled.

As I always say, it’s a committee, and a committee has to duke it out and vote. I wonder what they will do?



Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. Such a smart post.

    My visceral reaction was that the book was lovely (and I adore the font on the cover) but it kept me at a distance. I didn’t feel drawn in. Your illustrator friend’s comments gave me a bit of clarity about why that might be.

  2. Did anyone else notice how closely this book matches the first scene of the movie IT as well (minus the clown)? 🙂

  3. Constantina Kalimeris says:

    Thank-you Robin for acknowledging that “informed others should be solicited” for reviewing the illustrations. As an artist, I have learned a great deal about children’s books from Horn Book articles, reviews and award decisions by committees. However since many reviewers are not artists themselves, I’ve often wondered why that is so and how informed they are about the art process and merit of the art. To be honest, I think that some illustrated books have been undervalued and some over-glorified for the art in reviews in general because of this lack of knowledge. Yes, it’s difficult to avoid the aesthetic/subjective perspective no matter how qualified the reviewer is but I still think it matters to have more artists review children’s book art.

  4. Susan Dailey says:

    Robin, you bring such insight into how the committee works. Thank you for that! Alas, the review depressed me. 🙂

    I love this book! But I’m afraid the hair dryer scene could be a fatal flaw. (Please No!) I’m a sucker for wordless books! And for illustrators that vary the page layouts and point of view, especially those that look down onto a scene. I think MIyares did a fabulous job with the page turns. I loved the composition of the page where the boat is lost down the sewer–that all black page, the yellow slicker through the pouring rain. Wow! I’ll stop gushing now while hoping some on the committee share the love.

  5. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I said this recently on 100 Scope Notes, but I’ll say it again. If you read the Caldecott criteria carefully, I think you will find that some people grossly overplay the need for an artist’s perspective.

  6. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Jonathan, here’s what I don’t think is relevant to the Caldecott committee: involved explanations of how the art in a picture book is created. The finished product is what should be judged, not the process. I’m not saying that the process is not interesting, or even sometimes absolutely astounding, to know about. (In fact, this weekend at BGHB, hearing how Marla Frazee created the art for FARMER AND THE CLOWN made me admire that book even more.) I just mean that the WHAT, not the HOW, should be the focus of the Caldecott committee.

    But I do think that an artist’s observations on that WHAT can enrich one’s understanding of a book. Even though we’re evaluating the book as librarians/teachers/readers/etc., “the committee is to make its decision primarily on the illustration.” I don’t see the downside in soliciting artists’ opinions about the art in a book that’s being considered for the Caldecott — as part of educating ourselves as thoroughly as possible.

    What are your objections, exactly?

  7. I thought this was a lovely book. I only read it twice in the bookstore, so haven’t had time to study it. I didn’t notice for example the face color looking off. I’ll go back to the bookstore now and read it again with your thoughts in mind, Robin.

  8. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Martha, I don’t actually object to committee members consulting the opinion of artists at all. I would encourage committee members to solicit many wide and varied opinions as possible. I applaud what Robin has done here and I do think it yields some additional insights on the book.

    What I do object to, however, is the notion that the committee lacks the appropriate skills to judge the Caldecott because they are not themselves artists, that their taste is somehow suspect because of their background or lack thereof.

    Robin actually posted on this here–

    And Travis more recently here–

    There are five criteria and I think artists and librarians are both fairly equipped to judge picture books.

    Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed (here’s the one area where I think artists have a clear and distinct advantage)
    Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept (art and narrative are co-equal here)
    Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept (art and narrative are co-equal here)
    Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures (art and narrative are co-equal here
    Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience (artists as a group don’t have an inherent advantage here; I think librarians by virtue of working with children on a daily basis do)

    The question, then, is not the one that Barry Moser poses: Do you know what a double-split complementary color scheme is? But rather this one: How does a double-split complementary color scheme elevate the story, theme, or concept to the level of most distinguished? That’s a pretty tall order, and I’m not saying that it’s impossible, but I think that skill set is as rare in artists as it is in librarians.

    Now take the Caldecott choices from last year and compare them to the Golden Kite which chose THE RIGHT WORD with THE FARMER AND THE CLOWN as the lone Honor, and the Society of Illustrators which chose THE BEAR’S SONG for the Gold Medal and WILDWOOD IMPERIUM and HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS as Silver Medals, and the NYT Best Illustrated: DRAW, THE PILOT AND THE LITTLE PRINCE, THE BABY TREE, SHACKLETON’S JOURNEY, HAITI MY COUNTRY, HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS, TIME FOR BED, FRED, HERE IS THE BABY, WHERE’S MOMMY, and THE PROMISE.

    From comparing the products of the librarian-based committee with the artist-based committees, I find no evidence that their superior knowledge of art actually helped them find distinguished picture books any better than the Caldecott committee did. And take any years and compare them head-to-head and I think you’ll find the same. I’m not at all convinced that the Caldecott choices would be “better” if you had 15 artists on the committee.

  9. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Oh, I was beginning to think the internet had swallowed this comment. Obviously, my initial comment wasn’t directed at Robin so much as Constantina. Of the five criteria only one is about the art in and of itself, three more are about the interface between the art and the narrative (that is, the illustration), and the final one is about how that narrative works for a child audience.

  10. This book caught my eye as well, and I have looked at it several times. I do really like the use of color and the contrast of the grays and the yellows. Now I will look again.

    On the other subject….When I served on the Caldecott Committee, I spent an afternoon with an artist friend just looking a big pile of books and asking her opinion. Yes, she got me to look deeper at some of the art, and she saw some things that I did not and also she helped me articulate issues that I saw in some of the books. The art is the main thing, as the criteria state. But also, the whole thing, the picture book. The award is for the “most distinguished American picture book for children”, not just for the best art in a picture book. Librarians have a good idea of what makes a good picture book… so yes, call in some artists and talk to them about the art. But you can also call in some people who know story and children and what good books are all about. And ask some kids, too while you’re at it!

  11. great book

  12. This was not the best book I have read. I wish that it had words because it was very boring and plain.

  13. shoutout to all my homiez at boynton! Float all the way! bruh

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