Outside In

Cindy Derby’s illustrations in Outside In, written by Deborah Underwood, were made with watercolor and powdered graphite on cold press paper—and, per the copyright page, “some of the lines were created with dried flower stems and thread soaked in ink.” It’s a perfect example of the book’s theme: that nature is always part of our lives, even when we’re indoors.

For the first few spreads, the role of nature is obvious as we see a girl sitting on a tree branch and then walking through the woods. The muted palette, strokes of blue, and the way the trees bend hint at a rainy or at least windy day. As the spare text tells us that “sometimes even when / we’re outside… / we’re inside,” a page-turn takes us from a blurred aerial view of the forest with a car driving up a road…to the gloomy interior of that car, where the girl’s facial expression shows exactly how she feels about being there. As the girl returns home and goes about her later afternoon and evening, her body language often indicating that she’s not in the cheeriest of spirits, nature makes itself known again in various ways.

As the sun sets, there are “flashes” of sunlight at the window, separated by feathery shadows; and noises from birds, shown on a spread where the walls of the house seem to disappear except for their barest structure. Nature comforts the girl via a wooden chair, “once trees” (she looks straight into the chair's shadow and imagines those trees), and via the dog and cat who appear frequently and eventually cuddle up with her. After a good night’s sleep—moonlight and then morning light show her when it’s time to “rest” and to “start fresh”—she’s ready to go back outside. “Outside waits…” says a blank verso. On the recto, girl and cat gaze forward into the outdoors, while the outdoor scene’s shadow reflects back into their world along with their own shadows; then, with a page-turn, they emerge into an outdoor spread with an autumnal palette brighter than yesterday’s.

Derby uses shadow and reflection frequently and beautifully as the outside world appears inside, with the illustrations sometimes emphasizing what the girl notices or imagines (a boxelder bug in the bath), and sometimes showing viewers what’s taking place beyond the girl’s notice (creatures outside the window; water rushing through pipes as she stands at the sink). Full-bleed illustrations, usually spreads, are broken up with occasional spots, which tend to focus on one thing within the girl’s attention (“a tiny snail on kale”). Visible brushstrokes add to the general sense of blurred lines, of the outside and inside worlds bleeding into each other.

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Outside In here]

Outside In particularly nails the Caldecott criterion of “appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.” And many of the illustrations are breathtaking: “excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” The competition is stiff; that’s clear from the Calling Caldecott posts we’ve seen so far, and we’re just getting started. It’s hard to say with any certainty whether this book will rise to the top as far as the committee is concerned.

But in the meantime its lovely illustrations are a welcome respite from my now-very-familiar walls—as is its reminder to look out the window.


Shoshana Flax
Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine, is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. She is a current member of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award committee, and has served on the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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Susan Dailey

My initial response to this books was tepid. As I explored it carefully, my response changed dramatically! Shosana, your review pointed out even more wonderful things I hadn't noticed. Thank you! I agree about the matching of style to theme-outstanding!

Posted : Nov 05, 2020 02:13


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