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Picking up dropped stitches

We are down to the wire, book-coverage-wise; after this post, it’s on to gearing up for our end-of-the-year Mock Caldecott vote. We try to discuss as many eligible picture books as we can here, but inevitably we miss some. This post is intended to catch some of those missed titles. I’m taking a slightly unorthodox approach today because, unfortunately, I don’t have the physical books on hand, and I am loathe to comment without them. So what follows are only introductions, with my apologies. I’ve solicited input from each book’s supporters (published below); I’m also counting on readers to pick up the slack and fill in the gaps.

First up: In a Village by the Sea, written by Muon Van and illustrated by April Chu.

in a villageIn a Village by the Sea won several Mock Caldecotts across the country (here is a link to ALSC’s helpful compilation of mock election results) and got very positive reviews in, among other places, Kirkus (“the intense illustrations…extend the story far beyond the words”) and the New York Times (“both modest and captivating”). Recently Minh Le named it the winner of the “Best Surprise” category in his “Best Picture Books of 2015” in the Huffington Post: “Van’s clever nesting doll narrative and Chu’s playful illustration sprinkle the story with a healthy dusting of magic and surprise.”

Jonathan Hunt says:

“Sometimes we read books and there is just an intangible sense of Caldecott about a book, and that happened for me with In a Village by the Sea. When I read it to my  2 1/2-year-old son, he had the same sense of wonder, awe, and reverence as he did for Viva Frida last year. It was as if he needed extra time on each page to absorb Chu’s beautiful illustrations. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the book perform so well in many of the Mock Caldecotts that I’ve conducted with school library staff, earning either the Medal or an Honor. There’s a lot to like about this book, but what stands out most is the nesting doll narrative, a wonderful sense of composition and perspective, and resonant themes of home and family. It’s published by an extremely small press and, despite earning three starred reviews, probably isn’t on many people’s radar, but it definitely should be.”

Next: Kadir Nelson’s If You Plant a Seed.

if you plantIf You Plant a Seed has been on a roll lately, being named the winner of separate Mock Caldecott discussions in Cincinnati, Dayton, and Chicago. It too has garnered positive reviews, including in Kirkus (“To this spare, fablelike text Nelson pairs stunningly cinematic oils, modulating palette and perspective to astonishing effect”) and PW (“Nelson adeptly balances whimsical, naturalistic, and instructional ideas to create a story that satisfies on multiple levels”).

If You Plant a Seed also won a category in the aforementioned “Best Picture Books of 2015”: “Best on Kindness.” Here’s what Minh Le said there:

“Every interaction we have presents us with a choice about how we behave toward each other. Here Nelson (whose artwork is, as always, stunning) presents us with a simple but dramatic reminder about the power of choosing kindness.”

In Chicago, it prevailed with the Dominican University GSLIS Mock Caldecott committee:

“Nelson’s expansive oil on canvas paintings depict[ing] realistic animals make dramatic use of varying perspectives to draws readers into the story and explore universal themes of peace and generosity.”

Next: Bird & Diz, written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Ed Young.

bird dizAfter our post asking for readers’ top 5 picture book choices for this year’s Caldecott, two commenters voiced strong support for Bird & Diz.

Elisa Gall said:

“The frieze, accordion format puts readers in the audience — thanks in part to the texture of the oil pastels (which also reinforce the smoky nightclub setting). The pacing is pitch perfect (no easy task for a book with borderless illustrations), as the ‘Tag, Bird — You’re it’ comes at the moment when the book starts turning the other direction. The abstraction captures the essence of Gillespie and Parker’s ‘Salt Peanuts’ performance, as lines and color reflect melody, dynamics, and even characters — with a brown background symbolizing the color of the musicians and contrasting colors (which work alone and then in tandem) representing each artist and his music. All in all, Young visually represents the auditory (and other senses too) in a way that is really special (or might I say … ‘individually distinct.’) ☺”

And Sam Bloom added:

“I’m a huge jazz fan, and while other picture book illustrators have attempted to give visual representation to the music, this is one of the few books that actually gets it right …”

Finally: P. Zonka Lays an Egg by Julie Paschkis.

pzonkaIn the top 5 comments, Eric Carpenter expressed his dismay over the lack of buzz about this book, and later elaborated:

“In a year with so many beautiful picture books eligible for the Caldecott, my thoughts continue to return to Julie Paschkis’s P. Zonka Lays an Egg (Peachtree). Despite receiving positive reviews from all 6 journals (including a star from Kirkus), P. Zonka Lays an Egg has not come up in Caldecott conversations here or in real life. I would like to lay out some reasons why I think P. Zonka deserves a second look.

“In this simple barnyard story of a hen who prefers taking in the beauty of her world to laying eggs, Paschkis’s watercolor and gouache illustrations are an absolute joy. Vibrant yellows, pinks, and blues, along with loose black outlines, pop off each spread. Paschkis brings wonderful expression and personality into her chickens while employing the bold, graphic patterns inspired by pysanka, a Ukrainian method of egg decoration. This is certainly a case where the artistic techniques employed fit its story perfectly. When P. Zonka finally lays an egg, the book’s whimsical imagery and colorful backgrounds are reflected in her creation. Readers enjoy flipping back through the pages of this book to find all of P. Zonka’s inspirations. I’ve had a great time reading this book to a number of classes, and it definitely has the wow factor that makes it a great one for sharing with groups. Also, is there a better picture-book cover this year? That yellow grabs you from across the room like no other 2015 title.”

So there you have it: four (final) picture books that have elicited passionate and eloquent support in the children’s literature community. Please add your own impassioned eloquence below!


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. My favorite of the four is IN A VILLAGE BY THE SEA, which is one of the three or four most magnificent picture books of the year. Objects and living things are all part of this interconnected tale whose minimalism gives opportunity for the book’s remarkable illustrator, April Chu to produce some of the loveliest art in any book this year, whether the target audience is children or adults. Chu paints loving tapestries in the sublime tradition of intricate Japanese woodblocks, providing readers of all ages with detailed art, the kind that invites lengthy inspection and ravishing appreciation.

    I also love P. ZONKA LAYS AN EGG enormously, but I give a very slight edge to Ms. Pashkis’ FLUTTER & HUM, a bilingual book about animals, also released this year, and also very much under the radar of some book critics and aficionados.

    Kadir Nelson’s book too is exquisite, and I know many have it among their favorites. I like it quite a bit too, and those enlarged illustrations are captivating.

    And I do love Ed Young’s work over many years and BIRD & DIZ is simply dazzling.

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