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Hello Hello

No illustrator creates animals the way Brendan Wenzel does. Once readers see a cat or a parrot or a tiger rendered in his distinct style, they may never look at the creature the same way again. And it all starts with those eyes. I call them Wenzelian eyes. The googly eyes never feel cutesy, but they possess an almost comical wide-eyed warmth that connects with young readers. And that is what Hello Hello is all about: connections.

Wenzel (who won a 2017 Caldecott Honor for They All Saw a Cat) clearly loves creating art that celebrates the beauty and wonder of creatures big or small, scaly or feathered, fuzzy or slimy. The joyous illustrations in his inventive Hello Hello, which introduces readers to over ninety animals, invite readers to share his appreciation for both the natural world and the artistic process. Effectively functioning as a concept book, Hello Hello compares and contrasts the colors, sizes, and patterns of various critters. Using a wide variety of media (cut paper, colored pencil, oil pastels, marker, and the computer), Wenzel creates a visual flow from animal to animal and from spread to spread, accentuating the creatures’ physical similarities and differences alike. Wenzel experiments with his illustrations; he seems endlessly curious about the various ways he can depict his subjects. For example, check out how the cut paper adds texture to the Sunda pangolin’s scales. He avoids anthropomorphism, but his stylized approach feels playful and warm, perfect for younger children. Yet Wenzel also delivers a very sobering message: many of the featured animals are threatened or endangered species.

Experiencing the book’s beauty begins by removing the dust jacket to reveal a lovely dark blue cover with shiny silhouettes of a multitude of creatures. At the start of the book, the endpapers feature gray animal silhouettes. Flip to the end of the book and notice how Wenzel has filled in these silhouettes with detailed drawings of the animals. The burst of color takes the breath away.

The book’s longish rectangular dimensions (9 x 12.5 inches) give it a panoramic wide-screen feel that mirrors the epic scope of Wenzel’s vision. Each double-page spread shows animals eyeing and interacting with each other, all set against a white background. The uncluttered layout allows the illustrations to pop off the page. Meanwhile, Wenzel’s spare yet bouncy text (in a handsome easy-to-read font) explains or sometimes just hints at why these particular seemingly unrelated animals have been grouped together.

In a fitting tip of the hat to They All Saw a Cat, the main action begins with a pair of felines. On the first spread, a white cat on the verso page faces a black cat on the recto. The words “Hello Hello” appear next to the black cat. On the next spread, after the page-turn, the reader notices that the black cat (who seems a little thinner than on the previous page) has walked in from the previous spread, encountering more black and white animals such as a black bear, a panda bear, a zebra, and a striped fish. Here moving from left to right, Wenzel goes from two animals that are completely black to one animal mostly black, but with a white face, and then finally to two striped animals. “Black and White,” the words say.

The striped fish swims to the next spread, and suddenly, with a  “Hello Color” and “Hello Bright,” the reader marvels at the explosion of bright colors. This deceptively simple spread seems, at first, to contain a random grouping of colorful animals. However, upon further investigation, we notice how thoughtfully planned-out Wenzel’s composition truly is. Moving again from left to right, the black and white fish follows a similarly-shaped blue fish. The blues of the latter fish match the blues of the nearby chameleon’s tail. The red of the chameleon’s face mirrors the red of the nearby parrot’s head, and the blue of the chameleon’s feet blends in nicely with the blues of the parrot’s tailfeather. And so on. Green moves to yellow, yellow to pink, pink to blue, blue to orange.

In each ensuing spread, Wenzel keeps adding delightful spins to his comparisons. Animals with distinct tongues or noses. Animals striking amusing poses. Animals curious about each other (“Hello Wonder”) or possessing sharp quills (the funny “Hello WHOA!”). One raucous section has a wide array of noisy animals roaring and peeping and singing. After this rollicking bit, Wenzel brings his message home by showing how human children are indeed part of this “world to see … world to know.” A girl with glasses looks at a lemur with rings around its eyes (note how her striped shirt matches the lemur’s ringed tail) and a boy with orange hair gives a thumbs up to an orangutan with orange fur. Then one more page-turn and the reader discovers a wow-inducing spread showing a wide variety of animals and a climactic “Hello Hello.” And then there is the back matter. Wenzel reveals in a striking and haunting visual key whether 92 animals are vulnerable, near threatened, endangered, or critically endangered.

Hello Hello honors the Caldecott criteria in many ways. The book offers a rich visual experience and respects the intelligence of children. The illustrations work together as a whole to support an overall theme. Most of all though, it goes back to those eyes. One Caldecott criterion is that the work be “individually distinct.” Brendan Wenzel’s drawings of animals look like no others. Once the reader says hello hello to these wonderful creatures (many of them struggling to survive), he or she won’t soon forget them.

Brian Wilson About Brian Wilson

Brian E. Wilson works as a children’s librarian at the Evanston Public Library in Evanston, IL. He served on the 2015 Odyssey Committee and the 2017 Caldecott Committee. He blogs at Mr. Brian’s Picture Book Picks at mrbrianspicturebookpicks.wordpress.com.

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Comments

  1. Yes this is indeed a celebration of the animal world, made enticingly accessible to youngsters who without question will be captivated by the vibrant colors, bold design and alluring shapes. As you note Wenzel scored mightily two years back with his wildly popular “They All Saw a Cat” and this year’s entry is arguably as striking and sublime a work even if the idea inst quite as original. But this is an illustrative interpretation and for kids and their adult readers it is equally as magisterial across the board. Great points about the “Wenzelian eyes” and how this book respects its audience, enriching the experience with that wonderful four-page annotated finale and the glorious animal-infested end papers. I can vouch here for nothing less than a spectacular reaction from the five first grade classes and one second grade class I read this book to, and anticipated a strong showing when we conduct our own Mock Caldecott in January. Anyway I’d say this is among my own personal top half dozen favorites of 2018 and I salute you on an excellent qualification essay.

  2. I started writing and illustrating children’s books this past year, inspired by my baby granddaughter, who is now 2-and-a-half. I have been all over the place as far as my illustrating style. It is so easy to be caught in too much realism. I released 5 books, and the one that seems to be getting the most excitement from kids and parents alike is the one where I broke all the boundaries of the confines of drawing and use of colors. Kids enter this world with imagination and the somehow through school, that ability to see the world in wild colors is abandoned as we grow older. Doing art is the ultimate expression of freedom.

  3. I shared this book with second, third, and fourth graders. It was fun to watch the looks on the majority of the kids’ faces when one of their classmates would be the first to point out that the last animal on each page spread is the first on the next page spread. The students appreciated the style choices, and how each animal was both clearly recognizable and “real looking”, but was also clearly not intended to be photo-realistic. The variety of textures produced by the various techniques was also a frequent comment from the students, and something that impressed them. The students were very interested in both pointing out the animals they knew, and being stunned by the ones they did not. One or two students felt that some pages were more obviously and clearly thought out in terms of color or texture flow, and others did not seem to as carefully arranged. (It particularly bothered one kid that the “Loud” side of the page had one loud animal, one that is fairly quiet, and a fish that is quiet.)

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