Saturday

Cover of SaturdayIn a December 2018 interview at the site Art of the Picture Book, Oge Mora mentions that a quote from her favorite painter Jacob Lawrence — "when the subject is complex, simplicity is the only way to treat it" — inspires her. She praises Lawrence's playful style, as well as the way he created memorable images "with the least amount of elements required." I can say the same thing about Mora's vibrant work.

Like last year's gorgeous Thank You, Omu! (for which she received a well-deserved John Steptoe New Talent Award and a 2019 Caldecott Honor), Saturday contains unforgettable visuals. The inventive illustrations radiate pure joy through a combination of collage, acrylic paint, and china markers.

Mora does not waste a single moment getting to the story's beating heart: young Ava and her mother (who works six days a week) want to enjoy the perfect Saturday together. They have four things planned — a library storytime; a trip to a hair salon for new hairdos; quiet time in the park; and then a one-night-only flamingo puppet show. However, things keep going wrong. When mom deflates after the fourth plan falls through, Ava comes to her emotional aid and comforts her. The two realize that, although the day had its bumps, at least they have each other. At the end, they create art together, their very own flamingo puppet show. 

Saturday's story begins on the endpapers with a calendar. All the dates have Xs through them, except for today, Saturday the 30th. Various shades of purple, blue, and pink create a soothing palette. Note the flamingo imagery that recurs throughout the book, beginning on the endpapers. A flip to the title page reveals Ava getting out of bed and stretching, while mom stands in the doorway with a purple mug that has a Mora-esque swirl of steam wafting through the air. Bold greens and yellows dominate this spread. The title word Saturday — rendered in distinct, stylized purple lettering in all caps — commands attention. We will see this lettering again later, to emphasize certain words throughout the story.

Mora's collage effects instantly draw the eye. She uses snippets of pattern paper and old book clippings. From faraway, the images look concrete, but up close, the seams show. Readers can tell Mora used scissors to cut out, say, Ava's legs. This gives her work a tangible feel. This approach perfectly suits a story that ends with a mother and daughter working on an improvised art project together. Mora plays and innovates with the resources she has at hand.

One of the best early spreads depicts the idyllic, dreamy version of the four things Ava and her mother have planned for this particular Saturday. For example, at the imagined storytime, the librarian enthralls his audience as a butterfly rises from the book being read. This idealized view of what should happen serves as a striking visual contrast to what goes wrong on the ensuing pages. With expectations set, the disasters that follow pack more of a punch.

The next page-turn finds Ava and her mother hurrying. In an effective touch, Mora has multiple Avas and multiple mothers running around in a circle, putting on clothes, brushing their teeth, fixing their hair. They rush out the door. Observant readers will notice that they have forgotten something very important: the tickets to the puppet show. As the characters ZOOOM! to their first stop, the library, readers take in a colorful urban landscape, one that is stylized and abstract (much like surreal folk art). When the characters learn that storytime has been cancelled, their body language conveys utter disappointment. Ava's hands, first waving with jubilant excitement, now fall to her side. Still, they continue on to the next planned stops.

This leads to the some of the most dramatic moments in the book. The most startling spread happens when the two, sporting new dos, step out of the hair salon. A car zips by and hits a puddle, causing the water to wreck their new hairstyles with an enormous WHOOOSHH!. When I read this book to children, they let out a loud gasp when this happens. The scene at the park is also effective. Seeking peace and quiet, the two find themselves surrounded by noisy people and animals. These raucous neighbors speak, yell, bark, or sing via word balloons filled not with words but with "loud" images. Mora's composition explodes with chaos and noise but thankfully does not feel overly cluttered. Poor Ava and her mother plug their ears. Then mom notices they might miss the bus that will take them to the puppet show. The words she shouts ("Today Will Be Ruined If We Miss That Bus!!!") jump off the page, with the words today and bus underlined for effect.

For the scene outside the puppet theater, Mora throws in some whimsical touches. A flamingo waits in line to enter. The people, seen from a distance, do not have facial features. There is an intriguing time lapse effect that shows Ava and her mother at both the end and the start of the line. When mom realizes she does not have the tickets, she "crumples" and has a meltdown. Another lovely time-lapsey moment shows Ava going through four steps to help her: being quiet for a moment, closing her eyes, letting out a deep breath, and then reaching out to comfort her. Mora places the two characters in a circle as they embrace, and this flourish beautifully captures their loving, close bond.

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Saturday.]

In Saturday, the reader can feel Mora's joy for creating picture books. She loves using bold colors for the backgrounds. Those poring over the collages will notice that, by including a variety of patterned paper and book clippings, Ava's leggings change from moment to moment. However, this inconsistency adds visual interest and an invigorating DIY feel to the story. It's an effect that feels both controlled and improvisatory. Mora is following Jacob Lawrence's inspirational advice.

Saturday might seem like a simple story about a mother and daughter finding solace with each other after a rough day, but there is a lot of complexity here under the surface — most notably, this theme of solace in art. Art is the answer for Ava and her mother. Could Mora's art be just the answer for this year's Caldecott committee? 

Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson
Brian E. Wilson works as a children’s librarian at the Evanston Public Library in Evanston, IL. He served on the 2015 Odyssey Committee and the 2017 Caldecott Committee. He blogs at Mr. Brian’s Picture Book Picks at mrbrianspicturebookpicks.wordpress.com.
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Sam Juliano

Brian, you have fashioned an expert and passionate account of this superlative sophomore effort from the extraordinarily-gifted young Ms. Mora. Like the rest of the picture book world -yourself included- I adored last year's Caldecott Honor-winning "Thank You Omu" and couldn't quite perceive we get an encore of such comparable quality in art, theme and cohesiveness. Alas it has happened and you've negotiated a splendid sponsorship here!

Posted : Dec 12, 2019 04:38


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