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This Is the Nest that Robin Built

Denise Fleming loves bright colors and texture, and this book’s palette is all about springtime, with all its yellow-greens and blues setting off the warm browns and reds of the foreground figures. She has moved away from her signature paper pulp painting technique this time, instead printing her colors onto paper that she cuts out and forms into a collage. Some pages have a hint of Eric Carle or Leo Lionni, but Fleming abhors a vacuum, so there are no white backgrounds. Instead, she has a bigger challenge of designing pages full of color yet with a clear focus on each spread. No easy task. The question the committee will need to ask is, Does she succeed? (For more about Fleming’s printing techniques, see her website.)

As the title hints, this is a cumulative book à la “The House that Jack Built,” but the builder here is a robin choosing bits and pieces to build a nest. “This is the SQUIRREL who trimmed the twigs, not too big, that anchor the nest that Robin built.” After the initial illustrations showing (mama?) robin, we see all the other neighboring animals who had a hand in supplying nest materials. Fleming adds several animals that are not mentioned in the text, especially ladybugs and other insects as well as some worms and caterpillars that might become meals later. Near the end of the book, we come back to the nest to see three blue eggs hatch into fuzzy nestlings. Finally, they fly off, leaving the robin parent standing in the nest: “Good— / bye!”

Julie Roach wrote in her Horn Book Magazine review, “A celebration of bits and pieces, of process, and of creation, this picture book describes how a robin builds a nest, shown through collage art that mirrors the bird’s methods.” What a perfect summation of this book. Fleming, like the robin, is piecing together a book that demonstrates how a world or a home — not to mention a book! — can be created out of so many little pieces. It takes a village (or at least a fully inhabited woodsy area) to raise a fledgling.

I wonder how the committee will approach this book. Will all that texture make it more difficult to parse the illustrations, or will they see that the medium itself calls for every square inch to have some kind of visual interest? We also have a fold-out page near the end of the book when the robin parent reappears, and Fleming uses it to include smaller panels depicting the ever-busy robin constructing the nest. Notice the eyes here and throughout the book. Fleming has a way with eyes, crafting them so simply but placing the light and dark circles in a way that emphasizes each character’s emotions. I suspect the committee will have plenty to discuss with this one.

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.

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Comments

  1. First off we have a unique, relatively rare trim size, seen effectively employed in last year’s Horn Book award winner “When’s My Birthday” and of course decades back in the Caldecott Medal winning “A Tree is Nice” by Janice May Udry and Marc Simont. Fleming’s employment is similar to the Uhry book, with the natural kinship of nest and tree, and the stunning collage cover of the materials that make a nest such a creative potpourri. i am like very other children’s book aficionado a big admirer of the Fleming’s Caldecott Honor book “In the Small Small Pond” as well as her lovely “In the Tall Tall Grass” and a number of others, but I consider this new book one of her very best and feel the committee will respond favorably to the scene-specific questions you broach here Lolly. As you rightly note bright colors and textures are a vital illustrative concern for Fleming and Eric Carle and Leo Lionni are especially evoked in her style, but there is more naturalism in her scheme, and she really brings new narrative heft to a time-honored nursery rhyme with an irresistibly vivid palette. The lime green end papers are even wonderfully attuned to her vision and the book in general makes a seemingly simple enterprise of nature as important as any other life cycle. Really fantastic essay in every sense. Thank you! Really love this book!!!

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