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Pie Is for Sharing

Stephanie Parsley Ledyard and Jason Chin’s Pie Is for Sharing does that thing picture books are supposed to do — text and art work interdependently. Ledyard’s rather philosophical text (an extended musing on the nature of sharing) is given a specific setting (a lakeside, summertime, community picnic) in Chin’s detailed watercolor and gouache illustrations; the pictures support the text but also tell their own story; and together, the book is larger than its individual parts.

One of the first things that struck me about Pie Is for Sharing is its (faint but recognizable) echoes of the classic A Hole Is to Dig. Chin wisely recognizes them, and though there are plenty of full-page illustrations and even some spectacular double-page spreads, he frequently uses spot illustrations that bring out those echoes. And, thus, the child-focused nature of this book.

Yes, it’s about a larger story — because at the end we realize that this is no random day but a celebration of the Fourth of July; and both text and art are very clear about presenting an aspirational, idyllic, inclusive portrait of that holiday — but I think what the Caldecott committee might most appreciate about this book is its attention to the child audience. The story takes place during a community picnic, with adults present, but the majority of the illustrations by far focus on the children’s activities as together they climb a tree, play ball, build a sandcastle, etc.

Chin’s illustrations place the reader right smack among the children in the book. Many of the perspectives are from ground level/low; the “camera” looks up at the children, not down on them. An exception — the spread showing a boy (the book’s main character) reading a book high up in a tree — is a stunner and lets Chin forefront a bird in its nest, appropriate for the text: “A tree is always shared … even when you think it is yours alone.” One of my favorite sequences is “If you are hurt / it helps to share a hug, / and some bandages, / and the story about what happened.” Four separate spot illustrations on the left-hand page show the boy’s little sister tripping and skinning her knee, grimacing and holding her knee while the other children come running, and then receiving a hug and medical attention in the form of committee-applied band-aids — and then the sequence finding closure on the right-hand page, with the little sister, who now has band-aids not just on her knee but all over both legs, her arm, and her chin(!), telling her mother all about it.

The closing words of the text (“Many can share one light. / And a blanket? / A breeze? / The sky? / These are for sharing”) make me choke up every time; and Chin’s accompanying illustrations, with a group of children of diverse ages and skin colors holding sparklers and then a page-turn taking us to a spread of the whole community gathered on blankets to watch the fireworks, really bring the book home. Particularly on that last spread, where he zeroes in on the faces of the children we’ve spent the day with, and they all seem to be facing the future with rapt attention.

This is a quiet, tender, not-flashy book, published in a year of blockbusters. Will the Caldecott committee decide to share it with one another? We will have to wait and see.

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Pie Is for Sharing here.]

 

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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  1. “This is a quiet, tender, not-flashy book, published in a year of blockbusters. Will the Caldecott committee decide to share it with one another? We will have to wait and see.”

    The book would seem to be a long shot for two reasons, first because this is as you say Martha “a year of blockbusters” and with only four of five available spots in the winner’s circle this is a hard nut to crack. Secondly of course is that Chin won a Caldecott Honor last year in what was seen by most as a surprise, even though his work over the last five or six years has been wholly magnificent. Yes I know the committee is instructed to ignore past wins or no-shows, but as someone on a thread here said at one time the knowledge is still there. I guess it is like anything else, and it depends on the sentiments of the elected committee. Yet……..this book is a treasure and like a bevy of others it should be looked at with passion and scrutiny. I bought my own copy at a Manhattan bookstore shortly after Julie announced in the “We’re Off” post that “Pie Is For Sharing” would be getting an essay in the Calling Caldecott round-up. I was hugely impressed as I am with just about every book Chin has illustrated. The watercolor-gouache work is evocative, underscoring a work of familial immersion that has its heart in the right place. “As American as apple pie” as the old phrase goes, the warm vignettes in this idyllic summer sojourn gives the reader buoyant uplift. Chin spaces out his big double page canvases -the boy reading the book in the tree, the beach activities on the shore, the words and music tapestry and the nocturnal blanket vantage point under the shooting stars, and it is hard to imagine a more memorable Fourth of July. Anyone who hasn’t experienced this will surely be wishing they did. The frame worthy art including the front cover and the canine feeding at the back bring Ms. Ledyard’s enchanting minimalism to lyrical fruition. A gem. And a fantastic review here I must add!!! I’m all for a surprise here!!!

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