Parrots over Puerto Rico

Let's talk about Parrots over Puerto Rico today -- written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore and illustrated with lush, amazingly detailed fabric and paper collages by Roth. Published by Lee & Low, this nonfiction picture book relates the history of the Puerto Rican parrot (Amazona vittata) from 5000 BCE through today; from thriving community to near extinction to possible recovery.

It's an unusual book right from the get-go: the cover. (Note: we only have f&gs in the office, no hardcover yet, so all my comments pertain to the unfinished book.) The only words on the cover AT ALL are on the spine; the front jacket just shows...parrots, in bright blues and greens highlighted with a few touches of red (near the birds' beaks). The colors of the paper are augmented by creamy white and black fabric for eyes and beaks. That's one notable element (although we've seen more wordless jackets in the past several years). The other much more unusual element is that the entire picture book is presented in vertical spreads: the reader turns the book sideways from the very beginning, with everything--page layout; flap copy, main text, back matter--following in that vertical dimension.

Roth's art is gorgeous. Maybe beyond gorgeous. It's the kind of art where you take in the whole picture--parrots flying over an uninhabited shoreline; a cascading waterfall; parrots and trees being buffeted by a hurricane--and then stay looking at the picture to figure out how she achieved her effects. Where she used paper, where she used fabric; how the myriad details add up to a whole. The waterfall page is a tour de force, but I think I appreciate even more the hurricane page: how did she show WIND!?!

The book may present one challenge to readers, and that is page turns. Do they work the same when the pages turn vertically? Do they propel you through the book in the same way? I think our (western) brains may be so programmed to want to proceed from left to right that the vertical layout may be difficult for some. For me, it just took a little time spent with the book to catch its rhythm.

In any case, here's a book from a smaller, independent publisher that would seem to deserve close inspection and consideration from the Caldecott committee. Your thoughts?

Martha V. Parravano
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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Sam Juliano

Beautifully written and passionate review, Martha. I can't thank you enough for turning me on to this treasure over the past week, and I am grateful to have a review of this caliber to enhance the enjoyment and appreciation of this deserving Caldecott contender.

Posted : Jan 20, 2014 05:46


I probably won't get a chance to see this, but I am reminded by your description of TOPS AND BOTTOMS, Caldecott Honor winner by Janet Stevens, which also featured several vertical page turns. Which, I suppose, is fairly irrelevant.

Posted : Nov 20, 2013 09:55

Julie Danielson

(My comment is also not much of a comment, but this post has made me very curious to read the book!)

Posted : Nov 20, 2013 07:30

Julie Danielson

I got this yesterday and can't wait to crack it open.

Posted : Nov 20, 2013 07:30

Monica Edinger

I am so glad you are featuring this one -- I had been hearing about it for a while and was delighted to get the finished copy a few days ago having not seen the F&G. It is wonderful; the wordless cover is tantalizing (I wanted to know about those gorgeous green birds), the orientation intriguing, and I found the page turns to work beautifully --for me they, reinforced the up/down aspect of the illustrations. You slowly turn a page and see first the top and then your eye travels down to the text. Every spread with the exception of the Rio Abajo one, has at least one and some times many parrots flying about in the top page and the people are mostly in the bottom of the first moving into the second page. I just loved those birds always flying above. And the text! It is crisp, informative, and clear. I adore the twining of the birds' history with that of the people who came to the island and then, finally, how the islanders recognized the need to bring the birds back and how they are doing so. Excellent back matter too. I am completely smitten with this book (and wrote my review yesterday over at my blog:

Posted : Nov 19, 2013 09:15

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