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Hawk Rising

If the flight of a hawk is poetry in motion, then this book is, too. Author Maria Gianferrari provides the poetry, and illustrator Brian Floca provides the hawk in motion. Parallel stories are at work here: Father Hawk hunts, while Mother Hawk stays with their chicks; a human girl, binoculars in hand, observes the hawk, her more hesitant younger sister in the background. (I like that the girls’ parents are not part of the story; there are no enthusiastic parents telling the girls what a wonderful experience they just had or taking pictures of the special moment.)

Floca, a master of ink-and-watercolor illustrations, won the Caldecott medal in 2014 for Locomotive, and this latest effort puts him in the hunt again. Just look at the cover illustration. This is no cutesy Disney character. This is a wild animal. Father Hawk hunts and feeds a squirrel to his family, and you can see the distress in the younger girl’s face at seeing the hawk flying off with the squirrel in its talons. Look at the multi-page sequence of the hawk, when after a long day of hunting he has finally spotted the squirrel. On the double-page spread showing the squirrel running for its life, the text reads, “He parachutes. / Legs tipping, / talons gripping…” Such an effective juxtaposition of words and illustration, of bird and prey. The following spread (“… and grabbing”) will have readers gasping at Floca’s depiction of winner and loser in nature’s drama. There is no evil intent in the hawk’s fierce expression; evil intent is a human construction. Here, an animal does what animals do, unsettling as it will be to readers, as it is to the younger sister.

Floca effectively alternates his use of dramatic double-page spreads with cozier spot art. The spreads are for action; the spot art depicts the sunbathing hawk, a chipmunk in the grass, and at the end, both families back in their respective nests. Floca weaves themes of nature and family and the feeling of solitude into the story. As Floca discussed in his conversation with Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, he wanted to capture the solitary feeling of both the hawk and the girls on the porch. They observe each other (I assume the hawk has seen the girls out there), but their worlds are worlds apart. Floca said, “There’s something solitary about a hawk, and I liked the idea of there being something solitary and private in watching one, too.”

Surely the committee will be eager to discuss the merits of this volume, which meets all of the criteria for making it “a distinguished American picture book for children.” I see it as particularly distinguished in artistic technique, “appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept,” and “excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.”

Illustrations and text work powerfully together. Gianferrari’s second-person narrative is  driven by action verbs. The hawk “rides the wind / like a wave, / twisting and turning, / kiting and floating.” “Crows charge / and chase, / darting and / diving, / driving Father Hawk from their roost.” Even the fonts vary to match the action. When the hawk dives after a chipmunk, “He dives, / feet first, / wings arced:

                                   fast

                                       to

                                       the

                                        grass.”

The spare text, too, is appropriate, never over-explaining but just emphasizing scene and action. The text might overreach a bit in trying for poetic effect — with “Mars rises red in the sky” opening and closing the story, sunbeams scratching the sky, and dandelions rippling and oaks trembling — but I doubt these quibbles make the book “less effective,” according to the Caldecott criteria. If anything, it’s a text that fully complements the power of the illustrations.

Hawk Rising reminds me of last year’s Medal winner, Wolf in the Snow, in the juxtaposition of human and animal worlds. In Cordell’s story, there is some interaction between human and animal; there is that same sense of otherness, of solitary and separate worlds. Cordell used circles around the girl and the wolf to emphasize this; here, Floca uses spot art. (If you look at the early pages when the girl leaves her house and the text reads, “You noticing,” the circular spot art on the opposite page depicting the hawk and a chipmunk — the animal world — is similar to Cordell’s circles.)

Maybe Hawk Rising will rise to the top this year and grab a Medal or Honor in its talons!

About Dean Schneider

Dean Schneider teaches seventh and eighth grades at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Comments

  1. I count myself as a passionate adherent of HAWK RISING and of Brian “Locomotive” Floca in general. I did indeed right after I first laid eyes on the cover weeks back conclude he was as you note “in the hunt” again, and throughout the book his fabulous signature ink and watercolors vibrate and hum. I was to be sure a huge fan of last years rapturous THE HAWK IN THE CASTLE, a medieval look at this remarkable bird by Danna Smith and Bagram Ibatouille, though putting the two books back to back it is a striking study in contrast in illustrative terms. I totally agree with your assertion that it meets all the Caldecott criteria which you have dealt with specifically throughout this review. Loving your comparison with Matthew Cordell’s medal winner of last year in that human-animal equation. I also concur with your assertion that Gianferrari’s language is a perfect fit for what Floca does with his brush. Plenty of verbs, all-encompassing observance and an appropriate strain of buoyancy. I consider the book’s cover one of 2018’s finest and I also love that irresistible close-up on the page with “Father Hawk spots a squirrel scurrying toward a tree.” Some of us animals lovers will wince watching this predator maul a squirrel and then fly off in the “navy-blue sky” but this is the way of the hawk world as you put it “Here, an animal does what animals do, unsettling as it will be to readers, as it is to the younger sister.” Perhaps my own favorite illustration is the double page canvas exhibiting this orange winged denizen circling above (Keee-Eeer, Keee-Eeer) but the many vignettes throughout are sublime splendidly integrated and paced.

    Thank you Dean for this stellar sponsorship for a gem of a picture book, fulling deserving of serious scrutiny. Floca is one of the true masters, though Ms. Gianferrari is a major component crafting the vital wordplay cues. The first graders in my school adore the book and were enraptured and animated during the reading.

  2. Susan Dailey says:

    This is a beautifully illustrated book! Dean, I appreciated your comments about the spot art vs. the double-page spreads. I hadn’t caught that. Like Sam, I really like the the image of the hawk’s head. Amazing! Another spread that struck me was the one where the girl looks up through trees to the hawk far above her. The color palette of earth tones is very appropriate, which is introduced with the bronze/brown endpapers. I also appreciate the unusual point of view of several of the illustrations, e.g. hawk talons above the sparrows, looking through wooden slats of the porch on the chipmunk page. Great book, great review!

  3. Dean, I haven’t read Hawk Rising to a group of students yet, but your post has me eager to share it. I can’t wait to see if the children notice the parallel stories and/or if they connect it with Wolf in the Snow. Like most of Floca’s books (Lightship, Moonshot, Locomotive, Ballet for Martha) the illustrations are beautiful AND informative. And as you note, the text and illustrations work together to present an unfamiliar topic that is pitch perfect for children. “…excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” indeed!

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