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Reviews of the 2018 Caldecott Award winners

Winner:

cordell_wolf-in-the-snowstar2 Wolf in the Snow
by Matthew Cordell; illus. by the author
Primary    Feiwel    48 pp.
1/17    978-1-250-07636-6    $17.99    g

A series of illustrations before the title page sets the scene: a prairie landscape in winter, home to both humans and wolves. Setting off alone toward home from school as a blizzard descends, a bundled-up child in a red hooded parka encounters a small, vulnerable, lost wolf pup. Using the howls of the wolf’s faraway pack for direction, the child carries the pup over fields and hills, across streams, and through the forest (and past intimidating forest-dwelling creatures) to deliver it to its family. When the child, exhausted, collapses in the snow on the return trip, the wolves repay the favor by staying with the small human and howling until, guided by the wolves’ cries, the child’s parents arrive. Cordell’s pen-and-ink illustrations balance detail and emotion: the wolves appear realistic, while the human faces and figures are stylized and cartoonlike. The setting is brought to life through changing sky colors, cold breaths, and extensive snowscapes in watercolors. The hand-lettered, inky text, wordless except for sound effects, supports the cinematic feel created through the use of varying perspectives and loosely demarcated panels. Suspenseful page-turns and aerial views on double-page spreads keep readers worrying about the protagonist until the very end, when the family is shown by the fireside with steamy mugs and pet dog — a cozy contrast to the fraught outdoor adventure. ELISA GALL

From the November/December 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Books:

big cat, little catstar2 Big Cat, Little Cat
by Elisha Cooper; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Roaring Brook    40 pp.
3/17    978-1-62672-371-9    $16.99

Spare in both text and illustration, this is an affecting, unsentimental picture book about the cycle of life. Cooper (Train, rev. 1/14; Farm, rev. 5/10) often takes detailed looks at broad topics. Here his focus is smaller and the details are almost entirely gone, replaced by minimalist art that rivets our attention on a housecat and its kitten companion — and then, after the passage of years and the death of the first cat, the now-grown second cat’s companion. “There was a cat // who lived alone. / Until the day // a new cat came. // …Big cat, little cat.” Small black-and-white vignettes scattered on pages of clean white space depict the cats’ daily activities; these dynamic pages are punctuated, as the book progresses, by double-page spreads with colored backgrounds that feature large close-ups. These interspersed spreads serve two purposes: they mark downtimes in the story (after a flurry of activity, the cats always take a rest together), and they mark the passage of time. For example, the first such spread shows the larger, older white cat curled up with the little black kitten; the second spread, several pages later, shows the two cats, now of equal size; the third spread (the last illustration in the book) shows the black cat curled up with a new white kitten. Cooper’s thick black lines produce figures full of kinetic energy and personality. The circular nature of the story is beautifully reinforced by the repetition in both art and text, and the result is at once realistic and comforting. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the March/April 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut
by Derrick Barnes; illus. by Gordon C. James
Primary   Millner/Bolden Books/Agate    32 pp.
10/17    978-1-57284-224-3    $17.95
e-book ed.  978-1-57284-808-5    $17.95

Brown skin, a dimpled smile, and a fresh haircut worthy of a standing ovation. Barnes takes a weekly, mundane activity for an African American boy — a trip to the barbershop — and shows its potential for boosting his self-esteem and therefore his place in the universe. The unnamed protagonist tells of his haircut from start to finish, narrating most of it in the second person, which invites all readers, regardless of ethnic background or hair texture, to witness and share in his experience. James’s color-saturated, full-page illustrations aptly capture the protagonist’s bravado, swagger, and even his humility, which he needs in accepting a post-cut kiss from his admiring mother. In the accompanying text, Barnes creatively portrays and affirms the boy’s hubris and hyperbole: he calls himself a “brilliant, blazing star” so bright that “they’re going to have to wear shades when they look up to catch your shine.” Alternately precise, metaphorical, and culturally specific, Barnes’s descriptions make each page a serendipity. In his afterword, Barnes notes that the barbershop and the church are “pretty much the only place in the black community where a boy is ‘tended to’ — treated like royalty.” A not-to-be-missed portrayal of the beauty of black boyhood. MICHELLE H. MARTIN

From the November/December 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

A Different Pond
by Bao Phi; illus. by Thi Bui
Primary, Intermediate    Capstone    32 pp.    g
8/17    978-1-62370-803-0    $15.95
e-book ed.  978-1-62370-804-7    $9.95

Hours before sunrise, a father and son go fishing for that night’s meal. So begins this powerfully understated picture book, which shifts the focus of the refugee narrative from the harrowing journey to the reality awaiting the family members once they reach their destination (in this case, the United States). With evocative detail and a keen ear for metaphor (“A kid at my school said my dad’s English sounds like a thick, dirty river. But to me his English sounds like gentle rain”; “I feel the bag of minnows move. They swim like silver arrows in my hands”), Phi hints at the family’s joys and struggles. And whether it’s tentative discussion of “the war” and the father’s childhood in Vietnam or a calendar showing the year 1982, the book is filled with cultural specificity. Bui (whose illustrated memoir for adults The Best We Could Do was also published this year) sets the mood with expressive brushwork and colors that alternate between warm oranges and reds in the home and cool blues in the chilly pre-dawn air. By the end, it’s clear that the small struggles that make up everyday life are the very things that bind the family together. The father and son return home that morning with a fish but, more importantly, a fond memory that will help make this new country feel like home. The ponds may be different here, but the water reflects life just the same. MINH LÉ

From the September/October 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

chin_grand canyonstar2 Grand Canyon
by Jason Chin; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Porter/Roaring Brook    56 pp.
2/17    978-1-59643-950-4    $19.99    g

Vacationing in Grand Canyon provides a father and daughter — and readers — numerous opportunities to explore this National Park’s geology and ecology. Travel guide–like narration (“After climbing out of the Inner Gorge, you’ll find yourself on a broad, sun-baked slope”) presents accurate scientific information, while the illustrations, laid out like photos from a camping trip, depict the pair’s adventures hiking from the bottom of the canyon to the top. Chin’s detailed, scenic watercolors portray actual sites (he takes a few artistic liberties, carefully documented in an author’s note). As the two explore the rocks, fossils, and landforms along the trail, selected objects are cleverly featured through subtle die-cuts. Turn the page, and the girl is transported back in time to the ancient geologic environments in which the rocks were formed, or the fossilized animals lived. In some cases, the shifts are to marine environments, a stunning juxtaposition with the desert landscapes of the present. This representation captures the essence of field geology: artifacts of the earth are indeed conduits to the past, brought to life through scientific imagination. The perimeters of some pages are filled with delicate sketches and diagrams in muted colors reminiscent of the dry rock landscape. They go into great detail on how rocks and fossils form, the plant and animal species found in the various ecological niches present in the canyon, and the very formation of the canyon itself. Near the end of the book, an immersive four-page foldout brings readers to the canyon rim, to marvel at “the grandest canyon on Earth.” The final pages of the book provide even more scientific information. DANIELLE J. FORD

From the January/February 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2018.

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