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A Home in the Barn

Could Jerry Pinkney bring home Caldecott gold once again with his illustrations for A Home in the Barn? I don’t have a crystal ball, and even Santa (who knows everything) won’t tell me. But I do love this book. As we’ve seen, there are many stellar picture books this year. Could this one rise to the top?

This is a story from the late, great Margaret Wise Brown, words seeing publication for the first time. I’m glad some editor somewhere chose Pinkney to illustrate. It’s a cozy story, bookended by a playful rhyme about a barn. The weather has turned cold, so all the animals head into the barn to stay warm. I reviewed this book for the Horn Book (you can read that here) and noted the evocative text. It is Margaret Wise Brown spinning magic: with sensory details that make this a joy to read aloud, she captures the sights and sounds (and even the textures) of the farmyard inside and outside of the barn — the wind that rattles the building, a calf’s “silky little curly coat,” the horses’ breath in the cold air, and the swallows’ “deep, warm nests of mud.” Occasional hand-lettered text captures sounds, such as the “SQUEAK SQUEAK” of the mice; the neighing and shivering of the horses, the stomping of the bull in his stall; and the howling of the cold winds.

Pinkney brings this all to life in lush art rendered via pencils, watercolors, gouache, and pastels. (In a closing note, he writes that his illustrations were inspired by three particular paintings: The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks, Haystack in the Snow by Grant Wood, and Young Bull by Andrew Wyeth.) His focus is on the animals, including on the cover — in this story, there are horses, cats, bats, a “proud bull,” field mice, pigs, and more. We see the human farmers only three times. A brown-skinned man, named Jonathan, and a boy we assume is his son tend lovingly to these animals; in the final spread, we see the boy milking a cow, his face turned toward readers. Picture books portraying contemporary pastoral farmers tend to make them White. I love that we have brown-skinned farmers here.

Another thing I noted in my review is that Pinkney favors tightly framed perspectives in these border-free, full-bleed illustrations, filled to the brim with nuance and detail. (The trim size is also on the large side; this is a book that doesn’t apologize for taking up its space.) It is as if Pinkney is inviting us into the barn. We are right there near the hay and can smell the cows. We stand with the horses, as their breath rises in the cold air, and wait with them as they make their way into the warm barn. We are up in the hayloft with the field mice and can see the swallows in their nest. We are right next to Jonathan as he tends to a newborn calf, whom he names Winter Morn. Sometimes, Pinkney gives us a broader perspective, such as when he takes us back outside to see the snow that has fallen all around the barn, but most of the time we are treated to these immediate, up-close perspectives.

The result of these choices is an overriding feeling of intimacy and comfort — and great warmth. We are huddled with the animals as they attempt to avoid the cold. Several of the closing spreads show the animals “all close together in the barn.” When I was little, I used to take my assortment of stuffed animals and put them under my blanket on my bed, pretending that I was keeping them safe and warm from something like a terrible thunderstorm. I was their caretaker, and I was responsible for their shelter and safety — it gave me a terrific feeling. I recalled this memory when I first saw these snug, tranquil spreads. And with this story, child readers are given an opportunity to see the ways in which adults (plus the boy!) take care of animals, just as the adults in their lives are to take care of them; they are given a glimpse into the ways in which their caretakers keep their safety in mind, just as farmer does with these animals.

It’s another exquisite offering from Pinkney. Will the committee take notice? Maybe if I leave Santa some eggnog, he’ll tell me. On second thought, I’m happy to wait till January to find out. The big awards are close at hand.

 

Julie Danielson About Julie Danielson

Julie Danielson writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. She also writes for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and is a lecturer for the School of Information Sciences graduate program at the University of Tennessee. Her book Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and Peter D. Sieruta, was published in 2014.

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  1. Julie says: “Could Jerry Pinkney bring home Caldecott gold once again with his illustrations for A Home in the Barn? I don’t have a crystal ball, and even Santa (who knows everything) won’t tell me.”

    True we never know (how many in the book community foresaw “Leave Me Alone!” and “Grand Canyon” coming away with Caldecott Honors in recent years?), but this book is a long shot. For me it is a ravishing, pictorially gorgeous masterpiece which I first saw appropriately enough from Pinkney at his table at the Chappaqua Book Festival in early October. Pinkney is one of the greatest children’s book illustrators of all-time, but heck I’m not saying anything that most don’t know or feel. The reason why “Barn” is considered a dark horse for the Caldecott is because of the depth of the competition, NOT because this isn’t up with his best. In 1989 I thought either Pinkney or Patricia Hyman should have won the gold for “The Talking Eggs” or “Hershel and the Hannukah Goblins” respectively and I thought both “The Ugly Duckling” and “Noah’s Ark” were gold worthy as well. Of course all three won Honors, which set the stage for “The Lion and the Mouse” to cop the gold. Five Honors and one Medal constitute a staggering achievement and this tireless wonder continues on at a pace of one book a year, each a treasure. I count “Barn” as his FINEST picture book since “The Lion and the Mouse” I count it as one of my own Top 10 picture books of 2018, and the cover and stunning “Here is the barn” opening spread magnificent. Brown, a master herself, provided Pinkney with a story worthy of his lustrous gouache illustrations, and the reader is transported to the rustic setting. The color red has rarely been used so strikingly. Proof parcel this prolific veteran hasn’t lost an iota of his incomparable gifts.

    A fantastic review and appreciation here!!

  2. Allison Grover Khoury says:

    What a lovely review, Jules. Thank you. My fingers are crossed for this book. It is true that there are so many beautiful books this year looked at on this blog, and I’m having a hard time deciding which ones are turning into my favorites. I can’t help hoping for Mr. Pinkney and A Home in the Barn. (and thanks for your comments, Sam! I always enjoy them.)

  3. Thank you so much Allison. Love yours too. Happy New Year!

  4. Paula Guiler says:

    I am sharing Winter in the Barn with my students for our annual Mock Caldecott. Winter is one of 10 we are examining. My students and I have several issues with the illustrations (mark first that JP is one of my all-time favorite illustrators. Also mark that I have discussed with several classes our unfortunate assumption that when the farmer is revealed, after his back is turned in the first picture of him, that he would be white. We talked long and hard about our need to adjust our notions of diversity, even in grades 3-4-5!
    We all agreed, though, that the page on which the text reads, “A cow had a calf.” the illustrations should depict said cow and calf. The picture and words did not match to our satisfaction. We agreed that it lends a sense of anticipation for the page turn, but the overwhelming sense was that text and illustrations should match. Next, we were surprised at how much snow had fallen between the farmer’s entrance to and exit from the barn. We know the time is not long, because on the next page, the text reads, “the little fat pony (which sent 3rd grades into gales of laughter) who had been sleeping late…” We agreed that must have been quite a blizzard to produce the piles of snow decorating the cornstalks! Lastly, though we are not farmers, we agreed that a cow with a new-born calf would not be being milked, as it is in the last illustration. Our understanding is that cows are not milked until their calves are weaned. Perhaps these are picayune issues, but we know that the competition is tough and that the Caldecott committees tend to find details like this and discuss them in depth. I say, good luck, JP, but I don’t think this is your year.

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