Two Brothers, Four Hands

Cover of Two Brothers, Four HandsBiographies by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan are among my favorite nonfiction books. Action Jackson; Ballet for Martha; Chuck Close, Up Close; and Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond, among others, are models of fine writing and creative presentations. And I loved Hadley Hooper’s illustrations for Patricia MacLachlan’s The Iridescence of Birds. Of course, this is all irrelevant to an actual Caldecott committee discussion, during which members can only discuss the book at hand, not previous books by the authors and illustrators. It’s an award for the current book, not the body of work, as mandated in the manual (number 10 under “Definitions”). However, knowing these creators' previous work is what made me anticipate the arrival of their latest, and it did not disappoint; Two Brothers, Four Hands: The Artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti ought to fare well as it stands up against other fine books of 2019. It’s a natural for the Sibert Medal (for nonfiction), but it surely should be a contender for the Caldecott; the illustrations are that remarkable.

“Delineation of plot, theme, characters…through the pictures” is the Caldecott criterion I think of first when I read (and reread) this book. Start with the cover. Right off the bat, we meet the Swiss Giacometti brothers, Alberto and Diego, working together on one of the Walking Man sculptures, the works most identified with artist Alberto Giacometti. On the cover, the brothers are surrounded by a collage of scenes, rendered in the palette used throughout the book — city scenes and mountain scenes in blue, rose, and green. The book's title presents the theme of two brothers working together, Diego helping his older brother create his iconic art. This theme is reinforced on the title page, depicting the two brothers as young boys, smiling and with arms around each other. Turn the page, though, and we already begin to see the boys’ differences: studious Alberto carrying books and Diego, ready for adventures outdoors, fishing rod in hand. With the next page-turn, we see Alberto sketching indoors, while on the facing page Diego is outside “spying on foxes, otters, and deer. ... One a daredevil, the other a dreamer." This theme — as well as the themes of survival (poverty, war) and perseverance in the pursuit of art — is expertly carried throughout the book in text and illustrations that support and extend each other. 

Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Two Brothers, Four Hands

The book, in text and illustration, also presents the story’s themes in ways young children can understand (the criterion of "excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience"). Children understand the struggle to get along with siblings, to work hard to achieve something good, and to figure out what to do with their lives. Child-oriented details in the book include Diego’s pet fox, Alberto’s girlfriend, and the mysterious Walking Man sculpture — much bigger than I had realized (6 ½ feet tall) — described in poetic prose: “He makes heads with shoulders so craggy they might have been hacked from the mountains of the brothers’ childhood.” Illustrator Hooper has the sculpture dominate the page. Monstrous? Menacing? Lonely? Children will have their opinions. Even the back matter is child-friendly, with one page devoted to Walking Man II with questions that ask readers to describe the sculpture, using their senses. This continues the teaching of visual literacy that the biography and illustrations began.

Certainly, this book satisfies the criterion of “excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” I wish I could watch Hooper create her art. I know she uses paint and ink and printmaking techniques and then finishes and scans the work in Photoshop, but exactly how she creates such beautiful and sophisticated art that still manages to be child-friendly...? It's just extraordinary.

And the art clearly extends the text, which, by definition, the illustrations of every Caldecott winner must do. Mountain vistas; cityscapes; German soldiers prowling Parisian streets; huge sculptures rising from heavy pedestals; the lush blues and yellows of the New York City streets, where the Museum of Modern Art will show Alberto’s work. Words alone would fail to convey these marvels for young readers.

I think the book's most ingenious illustration is the final one. Spare. Lots of white space. A yellow sun at the top. The blue-black illustration of Alberto and Diego viewed from the back as they walk with arms around each other, now old men. And their shadows? Blue-gray elongated shadows recalling the Walking Man sculptures. Brilliant. The image perfectly closes the story that opened on the title page with two boys, arms around each other. "Two brothers, four hands." 

Dean Schneider
Dean Schneider teaches seventh and eighth grades at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.
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marzena torzecka

I know Hadley worked many, many months on this book putting aside all other assignments and the final art shows it... it’s an obsessions similar to the one by Alberto and Diego... aiming for perfection

Posted : Oct 26, 2019 04:25


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