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Windows

Would it be cheating if, for just a moment, I sent you to Martha’s review of Julia Denos’s Windows, illustrated by debut artist E. B. Goodale? Martha nails a lot of what I like about this story of a brown-skinned boy’s stroll through his diverse neighborhood, as he describes what he sees when the windows light up in the growing dark, including the book’s contemplative tone and the nuanced, atmospheric illustrations.

You can read in this Horn Book Q&A (and even the bios on the book’s dustjacket flap) that the book has a particular connection to a specific spot on the map — Somerville, Massachusetts. The author and illustrator, who are friends, pitched it as a team. (Denos wrote the text with E. B.’s art in mind and then sent it to her in the hopes she’d illustrate it.) They even pitched it straight to Candlewick Press, because Candlewick is also based in Somerville. That’s to say that the book is two women’s love letter to a small town they used to call home.

To be sure, the Caldecott committee is focused on the book in front of them and are not necessarily concerned with the book’s path to publication — but I do find all of it interesting. And I also share all of that to say this: though the book was spawned by affection for a particular town in the northeast U.S., this setting could also be a densely urban town in another part of the country — a neighborhood in Chicago, Nashville, or New York. This universality is part and parcel of the book’s appeal.

This is a carefully constructed text that leaves a lot of breathing room for an illustrator to spin some magic. I wish ALSC would change its rules and give the Caldecott to both author and illustrator (where applicable). I enjoy so much about Denos’s spare writing here — how her choice of second-person voice ushers the reader into the story; how she describes the twilight as “almost-night”; how she puts figurative language to use (comparing the windows of buildings to “eyes in the dusk” and describing the lights in the windows as “a neighborhood of paper lanterns”); and the mesmerizing rhythm of it all, which shines when you read this one aloud. Goodale takes those words and runs with them, extending the text in concrete, understated ways that capture the wonder and discoveries of a night-time stroll amongst people with bustling lives. Who doesn’t want to linger on each spread, peeking in the windows? There’s someone playing a piano. Someone else is rocking a baby. Someone is comforting a friend. Two neighbors communicate through a tin-can phone, the glowing sky illuminating the scene.

I love how the book accentuates the sense of comfort the boy feels, especially knowing the light will be on in his own window when he returns: “Someone you love is waving at you, and you can’t wait to go in.” There’s his mother, acknowledging his return, and they cuddle up to read with their own open window behind them. I haven’t forgotten what Jabari Asim wrote back in November at the New York Times about this part of the book: “It’s a reassuring moment in these times, when walking at night in a hoodie can have different, even troubling associations for a child of color.” (And that red hoodie as a nod to Peter in The Snowy Day is just one of the book’s many rewarding details.)

Goodale uses the sunset as a visual anchor for the story. The dustjacket features a beautiful twilight sky, as do the opening endpapers. Take the dustjacket off to see the warm colors of a setting sun. Watch the colors of the sky deepen and glow with each page turn. One house’s windows even have suns in their stained-glass panes. It’s not till the final illustration and endpapers that we see a completely dark sky; those luminescent reds and oranges of a setting sun are the stars of the show here. I especially love how Goodale renders her trees against those glowing skylines — and how, in several spots, she merely loosely outlines an object (such as, cars parked on the side of the road), reminding us that’s it’s not the things, but the people, that matter.

I could go on, but one more thing: I think the book’s thoughtful pacing is probably its most outstanding quality, particularly where line breaks happen and page-turns propel us. I especially like the spread, midway through the book, where we see 18 windows. It invites us to slow down, wonder, and spin stories about what we see in 18 tiny vignettes — before we continue on our walk with the boy.

Whether it gets a shiny sticker or not, I have trouble imagining the Caldecott committee not giving it a great deal of attention and discussion, as it’s quite a remarkable book — a seamless merging of text and art.

Julie Danielson About Julie Danielson

Julie Danielson writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. She also writes for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and is a lecturer for the School of Information Sciences graduate program at the University of Tennessee. Her book Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and Peter D. Sieruta, was published in 2014.

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Comments

  1. I don’t often comment, but this time with your writing about a very favorite book of mine, I cannot help but say I agree with all you said and love the story about the genesis of the book, too. Thank you for praising a favorite that I hope receives some future honor.

  2. I knew this book was created in Boston by local folks and I was wondering if it would be Boston specific in the way that Make Way for Ducklings is. What a treat to find a mix of housing styles from the past hundred years common to most cities and towns across the US. Cultural details were sparingly present–a yoga studio, a Marian shrine, a bonsai. This could be any big US city but it could be almost any medium sized town as well.
    I also very much appreciated that a child was freely walking outside in the dark without fear. Social media amplifying the 24 hour news cycle can make it seem like a child is harmed every minute, but the truth is, even with the horrible things we hear about in the news, it has never been safer to be a child. Most children, if there parents had the confidence to allow it, would be safe walking the family dog on the streets of their neighborhood be they urban, suburban or small town. It’s nice to see that celebrated on the page.

  3. Susan Thomsen says:

    I love this beautiful book.

    I wish that what the above commenter said was true. But children who live in neighborhoods where gunfire is not unknown are not safe. I know of a number of kids whose parents do not let them play outside for this reason. It is not overly cautious. It is a sad reality.

  4. Certainly a child would never envision it for obvious reasons, but as an adult reader I was almost expecting to see in that remarkable eighteen window showcase at the book’s center, the wheel chair-bound James Stewart looking out through one of the windows with his camera or binoculars spying on the activities of other neighbors. Of course nothing as abominable as what went on in behind one window across the courtyard in Hitchcock’s 1954 masterpiece could ever transpire in the celebration of life known as WINDOWS, but there is nonetheless a brooding sensibility in E.B. Goodale’s art that more than warrants a comparison. I do really really connect with Julie Danielson’s special affection for this book, and wonder what kind of justice there is in this world if Goodale is not receiving one of the committee’s citations in Denver on February 12th. Like all the truly great picture books WINDOWS gets better and better (and better!) with each subsequent visitation. The metaphor of the window as device to establish a human connection (kudos of course to Julia Denos!) with the community and shared activities and rituals by just taking a stroll down the street (the twilight canvas with its golden hues and illuminated portals to life and all we do to sustain ourselves, including our reverence for animal companions is a pictorial jewel) is ingenious. Goodale’s art makes superlative use of line sketches (really love “You might pass a cat!) and autumnal colors(One window might be tall, with the curtains drawn…) and perspective (Another window could be dark…) and then the darkened house everyone remembers from their youth, though this one displays a stone statue of the Virgin Mother (like the line drawings of garbage can and shopping carriage and full color of dog and red hood). Oh I have plenty more to say but I’ll have to do that from my own end as I plan to.

    A stunning picture book in theme and execution and one fully deserving protracted scrutiny from the committee. I couldn’t agree more that the spare prose and pacing are first-rate and the words-illustration chemistry pretty much flawless. Thank you so much for this banner presentation Julie!

  5. Excellent review, Jules. I agree and agree and agree. I hope this book gets the notice and awards it deserves. The quiet beauty is unforgettable.

  6. Windows tugged at my heartstrings more than any other 2017 picture book. For more than ten years, my mom, sister, brother, and I went on dusky late evening walks around our neighborhood. We rarely missed a night. My favorite activity was peeking into my neighbors windows. I loved looking at the colors of their walls and the pictures and photographs hanging on them. I loved being able to see what they were watching on TV and I especially loved to see people involved in their nightly routines and activities. People existing in their homes fascinated me. In late December, I went for a night jog and found myself still noticing people’s windows…old habits die hard. I heard about the concept of this book before reading and was curious to see how it would translate into picture book form. Denos and Goodale masterfully captured a childhood experience and I am so thankful for their insight and wisdom. Windows is perfect.

  7. In the (overwhelmingly positive) discussion of WINDOWS at Capitol Choices a few months back, a twist that I had not considered in my first two readings was brought up. Is this the boy’s story, or the dog’s? I mention this because the dog isn’t ever mentioned in the review above, but so much of the perspective could be transferred to it.

  8. Interesting, Todd. It gives new meaning to the “you might pass a cat” moment. I suppose it works either way, especially with that final “So you do” right above the dog.

    Thanks for chiming in, everyone.

  9. I’m wondering that In addition to the nod to Peter in the boy’s red hoodie in “Windows,” the book may also have been influenced by Ezra Jack Keats’ book “Dreams,” which includes rows of brownstones with little dramas in each window.

  10. Priscilla says:

    Today I shared “Windows” with a group of 3rd/4th graders in a class where I was subbing. They were captivated. They discussed so many details in the book. The illustrations are so exquisitely detailed. The writing is poetic and worth rereading. I stumbled on this book in a library. I told the students: “I think this book deserved a Caldecott.” This evening I got online to see if other people felt the same. Thank you for your thoughtful review, Julie Danielson.

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