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Before Morning

before-morningTo paraphrase Kevin Henkes in Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, sometimes all you can say is “wow.” That’s how I feel about Before Morning.

Look at the intricacy and beauty of the scratchboard illustrations and the strength of the compositions.

Notice how carefully the book is constructed. Spreads with text are full-bleed double-spreads; spreads without text feature single pages, inside white borders. Also, notice where the text begins: after the child is asleep. This poem/invocation is clearly not in a child’s voice; it is instead on behalf of the child, channeling her deep and urgent longing. (My theory is that the invocation is being spoken by the stone angel in the park, but that’s entirely subjective. Though the three snow angels at the base of the statue on the last page does strengthen that theory!)

Notice that the art is both totally in sync with the text (in terms of representing the mood of the invocation and capturing the overnight transformation of a late blustery fall afternoon into a winter wonderland morning) AND completely independent of the text (in terms of the family story, which is not referred to in the invocation).

Let’s revisit the Caldecott criteria:

1. In identifying a “distinguished American picture book for children,” defined as illustration, committee members need to consider:

a. Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;
b. Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
c. Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
d. Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;
e. Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.

For me this book knocks all five criteria out of the park. For d — the “delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures” — I think the operative word here is “mood.” And I’m not sure there’s another 2016 picture book that delineates mood so beautifully. For e — “excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience” — I think the human story is aimed perfectly at a child audience. I think children will relate to the depth of feeling in the invocation and of course also to exactly what the child longs for: for her mother to be home; for her family to spend that ideal day that follows her fulfilled wish together; for sledding and cocoa and cupcakes. (It took me a few readings to see that it’s not just the BIG wish for her mother’s return that is fulfilled, but also the LITTLE wish to stop at the bakery — but I bet every kid reading this book notices!)

One more note about the portrayal of the family. The mother is a woman pilot; that’s very cool. The other parent is either a stay-at-home, spectacular-cook dad or a second mom; either one is cool. As to their skin tone, it’s a kind of peachy-brown…rather indefinable, and yet I don’t “read” them as “white.” Krommes has presented a family that’s individualized and universal at the same time, opening a door for children in many types of families to identify with this story.

A few more quick points of interest for the Caldecott committee:
  • Endpapers are spectacular: the same scene, pre- and post-transformation (shades of Virginia Lee Burton).
  • The individualized snowflakes!
  • The fun of orienting the family’s apartment in the larger town, and following the snowplow through the streets.
  • So many small, child-friendly details to follow throughout the book, including the family’s cat and dog.

So, is this book on your Caldecott radar? How do you think it will fare under the Caldecott microscope?

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. I do adore this book, and like so many others am a huge fan of Joyce Sidman and Beth Krommes, both of whom regularly impart their special brand of picture book lyricism in their work. Even before this book released I was thinking we would be getting something extraordinary, and the finished product, reviews and your own splendid Calling Caldecott examination confirm the expectations. This book has lived up to the hype and then some, methinks. And I do completely agree that the book does indeed knock those five criteria points “out of the park.” As to your final question, I’d say it will be sitting on that proverbial final stack come January. 🙂

    But like the last two years, competition does appear to be intense, with this crowded field of excellence.

  2. Allison Grover Khoury says:

    Yes, Yes! Hoping for Caldecott appreciation and awards. Such a gentle and brilliant AND thrilling duo. We are lucky they are collaborating again. Excellent review. I love this book for all the reasons included in your review and in Sam’s comments. But I am also a sucker for a good book about snow and winter. As a New England transplant to Los Angeles I long for snow. I keep my eyes open every year for a good winter picture book for my own children and for our school library. Before Morning is my favorite winter/snow book since Jonathan Bean’s Big Snow.

  3. Susan M. Dailey says:

    This book is absolutely gorgeous with lots of round shapes and yellow color adding to the warmth of the illustrations. As stated, the illustrations do match the mood wonderfully. But my logical mind has problems with some of the scenes. I don’t ever get the impression that the snow is coming down hard enough to close an airport. The illustration with a carriage going through a park really baffles me.

  4. Barb Gogan says:

    As my mother-in-law always says (here near Boston), you don’t have to worry about the storms with the big flakes–it is the small & steady flakes that bury you.

  5. I finally read this one over the weekend, and I loved everything about it. The poem was lovely, but it’s Krommes’ art that really steals the show. Admittedly, I’ve always been drawn to her art, but this one has emotional appeal embedded in its use of color – so warm, so vibrant, so illuminated – as if the world in The House in the Night bloomed into technicolor a la The Wizard of Oz.

    There are so many beautifully illustrated books this year, and I am hopeful is one peeks out and garners some attention.

  6. Angela Reynolds says:

    I finally got my hands on this one. Martha has covered the excellence points really well. I would put this one near the top of my choices for this year. The sheer execution of the art is so brilliant– I cannot imagine how hard it is to create the detail, shape, and feel of these illustrations in scratchboard – I just keep looking at the delightful double spread of tees and the park over and over, how the lines of the trees and the path lead the eye right to that little family trudging through the snow. One of the things that makes a book stand out for me is the overall feel. When there are so many excellent books (as there are this year), I Iook for books that present a wholeness- a book that is beautiful top to bottom, cover to cover. This book does that. I am awed by the illustrations, and the words just work so well. I also appreciate the way this family can be interpreted in several ways, as Martha mentioned. I like a book that has layers, has something to look at over and over. So yes, this one is on my Caldecott radar!

    PS Susan, I’ve had enough flights cancelled to know that maybe there’s a worse storm somewhere else that keeps you from flying out, so that part did not bother me at all…..

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