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A Parade of Elephants

This year on Calling Caldecott we’ve had an impassioned plea for Caldecott recognition for board books. The title under discussion today isn’t a board book (well, not yet). But it’s for the same audience, and I’m about to make an impassioned plea for its recognition.

Kevin Henkes’s A Parade of Elephants is both simplicity itself (a group of elephants march all day) and a sophisticated multi-concept book (introducing five numbers, five colors, six prepositions, and day and night — plus overtones of a pourquoi tale about where stars come from). And artistically it is just one thoughtful choice after another.

Begin at the beginning. Check the front and back covers under the paper jackets (they are perfection, and full of child appeal). Check the endpapers, the way the front cover is blue while the daytime-indicating art on the front endpapers is in blue, with this reversed in the back. Check the title page, with its horizontal lines of (appropriately) solid type that reinforce the line of elephants at the bottom of the page.

Then the first page of text, unaccompanied by art: “Look! Elephants!” The brevity and urgency propels the page-turn – where, indeed, we see elephants. They are introduced in such a way that the counting element is as clear as clear can be – “One, two, three, four, five” – and yet Henkes manages to also imply the marching that is to come, as that lead blue elephant appears to march across and down the spread, followed by the others.

And then from there – the sweetness of the elephants’ sense of purpose as they march; the pride they clearly take in their endeavor, indicated by Henkes with the tilt of a head or the lift of a foot; the occasional linked tails or trunks or nurturing checking on one another (especially on the littlest, pink one). It’s all so endearing and engaging.

The tension between the elephants’ solidity and their movement is in exquisite balance. And the security Henkes provides – the same five elephants in the same order doing the same thing all day – also allows toddler and preschoolers to absorb the multiplicity of concepts without ever feeling overwhelmed.

Additionally, note the appropriately round and solid and simple typeface used throughout the book. Note the horizontal lines on many of the spreads that separate art from text but of course also continue to reinforce the horizontalness of the elephants’ line-up and also pull viewers’ eyes across the page, heading for each page-turn.

The bookmaking is superb. The paper is wonderfully thick and heavy. The book’s size is generous without being ostentatiously large. Yes, it will someday make an excellent board book. But now, it’s a spectacular picture book for preschoolers that should absolutely be on the table for Caldecott consideration.

Thoughts?

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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Comments

  1. The Pink Elephants on Parade sequence from the Disney classic “Dumbo” is hard not to envision while turning the pages of this fabulous work of craftsmanship, yet another gem and Caldecott contender from Kevin Henkes. I can definitely see that board book connection and eventually, and can attest firsthand to the books great popularity with the lower grade students. It may even score well on our Mock Caldecott set for Monday. In any case fantastic review of a book that seamlessly brings together learning and delight and as you say never overwhelms.

  2. Allison Grover Khoury says:

    Excellent review. I first think of the frisson of delight I experience just looking at the cover! Kevin Henkes is a marvel, continuing to be so very brilliant. And somehow books with lots of lavender well used end up among my favorites. Last year it was The Ringbearer, this year it is A Parade of Elephants. I am so excited about the CC mock vote this weekend and next week, and the real results coming up in just 2 weeks.

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