What We Wish We Had Time For

Cover of ManhattanThe ALA Youth Media Awards are nigh, but we here at Calling Caldecott still have some book coverage planned for this week and next. We have a few more guest posters to come who will share their thoughts on eligible 2019 titles.

Even so, we know that we won’t have the time here to cover all the books we’d like to discuss. If we had one of Hermione’s Time-Turners, maybe we could magic that, but unfortunately we don’t have access to one. 

Today’s post is a tribute to those books. 

Truman – This a book that has appeared on many a mock Caldecott list this year. Jean Reidy tells the story of a brave pet tortoise and “his Sarah.” Both take big journeys that parallel each other — young Sarah’s first adventure into the unknown that is school and Truman’s sloooow trek across the living room floor to find her. Lucy Ruth Cummins brings a relaxed line and sunny colors to mixed-media illustrations that show us with playful perspectives how the cozy interior world of Sarah’s home can feel like a daunting and unsettling place to a pet determined to find his human.

The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives – This is a series of poems that follows African American midwives from slavery to the early 2000s (and even closes with a poem about the midwife who caught author Eloise Greenfield herself). I’ve seen this book pop up on mock lists and prediction lists this year. It’s a moving set of poems, accompanied by Daniel Minter’s dramatic portraits, dominated by rich shades of blue, of women and babies; it is art filled with symbolic patterns and images. But is this a picture book or an illustrated book? What will the committee think? (If you’re scratching your head at my question, visit this 2013 post from Robin Smith.)

Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island – Jennifer Thermes’s history of Manhattan Island is an impressive achievement. I’m going to quote Catherine Hong in the New York Times, when she wrote about this book in November. She praised the book’s many visually appealing maps and added that Thermes “has a gift not only for rendering delicate watercolor, colored pencil and ink illustrations but for narrating history in a way that inspires wonder.” And I love that, because I think that sense of wonder is one of many things that makes this book stand out.  

Cover of Roar Like a DandelionCrab Cake – I love Crab, always with a cake at the ready — but especially during times of crisis. In this case, it’s a disaster caused by humans. They have thoughtlessly dumped a whole heapin’ ton of trash into the ocean, but the sea creatures gather together to clean things up and tell the humans to “COME GET YOUR JUNK!” Andrea Tsurumi pulls off the book’s switch in tone (funny and light-hearted to pretty dang serious) with perfect pacing. The expressive illustrations and understated humor work together to tell one of my favorite stories this year.  

Roar Like a Dandelion – If I did have that Time-Turner, I’d use it to dedicate an entire post to this book. Here, Sergio Ruzzier illustrates a previously unpublished manuscript from the legendary Ruth Krauss, truly extending the text of this one-of-a-kind alphabet book in playful ways. There is, as Philip Nel has put it, a “slightly surrealist sense of humor … curious juxtapositions and nonsensical improvisations” to the whole affair, and it’s one of my favorites this year. (And let us not forget Ruzzier’s The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories, which one of our commenters “nominated” in our most recent nominations post.)

Music for Mister Moon – In a book from Philip C. Stead (one that I think really gets introverts), we meet young cellist Harriet Henry. She is a badass in that she makes herself a ladder to retrieve the moon, with whom she has a friendly conversation, and she makes the wagon used for hauling him back up into the sky. (She had inadvertently dislodged the moon from the sky with a teacup she threw in frustration at a loud owl.) Erin E. Stead’s monoprint illustrations are done in oil inks, along with additional flourishes in colored pencil. She ever-so subtly anthropomorphizes the moon and creates images still knocking around in my brain, such as Harriet pulling the massive Mister Moon in a small wagon and rowing him in a boat on the lake.

The Roots of Rap: 16 BCover of Risears on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop – This was released way back in January 2019. Carole Boston Weatherford writes that “hip-hop is poetry at its most powerful” and pays tribute to rap, laying out its history and kicking things off with nods to famed American poets Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Frank Morrison’s vibrant portraits of many legendary hip-hop and rap artists, rendered via oils, include reverent details. With expressive body language and dramatic close-up perspectives, he captures the key players of the art form that is rap.

Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou – Bethany Hegedus's biography, aimed at older picture book readers, was released in honor of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and includes the major events of Angelou’s life, while also paying tribute to her talent for inspiring readers as “poet of the people.” Both words and images swirl in In Tonya Engel’s vividly colored and expressive oil illustrations. Will it rise to the top for the committee?

How to Read a Book – Melissa Sweet renders Kwame Alexander’s delicious ode to the pleasures of reading (delicious in more ways than one, as Kwame likens a book to a clementine here) in mixed-media collage illustrations that include handmade papers, found objects, excerpts from literature, and even a lid from a paint can. There’s hand-lettered text, which becomes part of the artwork; an eye-popping palette; and a gatefold spread that opens into a book that has morphed into a three-decker bus with nearly 20 windows. I wonder what the committee will think of this wild ride!

Fly! – Baby bird has to learn to fly, even if he’s far from ready and has some other imaginative ideas for getting himself up in the air. (A hang glider should do, right?) There’s a lot of humor here in balloon dialogue — but it's not speech balloons you’ll see in this wordless tale. It’s Mama bird and Baby bird communicating via pictures. Mark Teague’s full-bleed acrylic illustrations here bring to my mind Uri Shulevitz’s words in Writing with Pictures: “A picture book is closer to theater and film, silent films in particular, than to other kinds of books. It is a unique type of book.”

Will we hear one of these books named in a little over two weeks at the awards announcement?

Julie Danielson
Julie Danielson
Julie Danielson writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. She also writes for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and is a lecturer for the School of Information Sciences graduate program at the University of Tennessee. Her book Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and Peter D. Sieruta, was published in 2014.

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