Books We Missed

Every year we set off at Calling Caldecott with a determination to cover Absolutely Everything, and every year we don't quite make it — a testament, I think, to how many great books there are. (Which also prompts me to remind everyone of the gargantuan task the Real Committee must accomplish! as we approach decision time.)

So, what follows is a brief mention of some of the books we missed, in the form of their Horn Book reviews. I'm sorry Calling Caldecott couldn't cover them individually. Are they on the committee's radar? We may find out on the morning of January 30th.

This post is also a heads-up that tomorrow (yes, tomorrow!) the ballot for our mock vote opens. Stay tuned...


 Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas
by Jeanne Walker Harvey; illus. by Loveis Wise
Primary    Harper/HarperCollins    40 pp.    g
2/22    978-0-06-302189-1    $18.99


This superb picture-book biography profiles Alma Thomas (1891–1978), the first Black woman to have art displayed in the White House’s permanent collection. After a childhood filled with “soaking up the sparkling colors of nature” and enhanced by heady discussions (“Alma’s parents filled their home with books and created their own place of learning”), Thomas taught art to Black children in segregated schools. During her long teaching career, she “painted, studied, and shared ideas with artist friends” on the side until retiring and turning to creating art full time. Thomas was the first Black woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney in New York, in 1972, and made history again when First Lady Michelle Obama chose her modern masterpiece, Resurrection, for permanent display in the White House’s Old Family Dining Room. Harvey’s (Maya Lin, rev. 7/17) poetic text is imagistic and deftly paced; Wise’s (The People Remember, rev. 11/21) digital artwork is boldly, fittingly colorful. Long, loose-limbed figures in various shades of brown pop against backgrounds of blues, greens, and golds. The story is bookended with scenes of Alma in repose, lying on her back, hands behind her head, the very picture of satisfaction from a job well done and a life well lived. Author and illustrator notes, an illustrated timeline, a source list, notes, and references (with separate sections for articles, children’s books, and adult books) are appended. SAM BLOOM

From the March/April 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Endlessly Ever After: Pick Your Path to Countless Fairy Tale Endings!
by Laurel Snyder; illus. by Dan Santat
Primary, Intermediate    Chronicle    88 pp.    g
4/22    978-1-4521-4482-5    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-7972-0121-4    $11.99

Though oversize, this eighty-eight-page picture book is not for story hour; it’s perhaps best suited for just one or two listeners. And get comfortable; kids will insist on multiple readings because, while the story begins the same way each time (Rosie must take a cake to her sick grandma), the choose-your-own-path format results in multiple endings (and middles). After introducing Rosie, the text asks, “What next, Rosie? Which coat will you wear?” Readers choose either her faux fur coat or her favorite red cape and are sent to a specific page number depending on their choice. Those pages tell more of the story and offer further choices (kiss your scary-looking granny or run for the door; jump out a window with your eyes open or closed). The numerous possible endings are split fairly evenly between happy and not-so-happy ones. In the latter, Rosie usually finds herself dead — not as morbid as it sounds because, if readers choose (and they will), Rosie can start her story over and hope for a better outcome. The humorously grim text is well matched with amusing illustrations that keep even the darker story elements lighthearted, as readers meet (or not) such characters as Snow White, a wicked queen, Jack, and Sleeping Beauty. Santat’s Rosie is small but sturdy and never terribly perturbed, even when she finds herself swallowed by the wolf (“You’ve got no choice. You sit and wait. It’s dark, and what a bore! / You’re not quite sure if this is death. You’ve never died before!”). Both text and art are endlessly clever. JENNIFER M. BRABANDER

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


by Young Vo; illus. by the author
Primary    Levine Querido    40 pp.    g
2/22    978-1-64614-110-4    $17.99

Dat, the young Asian protagonist of this involving picture book, has traveled far to reach his new country and is about to start his first day of school. His mother warns, “When people speak it will sound like gibberish,” and encourages him to listen and do the best he can. Dat eagerly dives in, but he is quickly overwhelmed by the constant barrage of incomprehensible babble “in his books and in the air.” In the schoolyard, he is surprised by one of his classmates, who is also taking a moment apart from the group. She grabs him by the hand and shows him how to seesaw and jump rope (the international language of child’s play!). Back in class, the interminable day drags on, but on the bus ride home, the girl ­reappears. She pulls out paper and markers, and they begin to draw together. Vo, who was himself a child refugee from Vietnam, does a brilliant job of conveying the disorientation and alienation that children face in these situations, and does so as much with his mixed-media and digital art as he does with his spare text. Dat is depicted as a vibrant, fully realized, full-color figure, who is thrust into a black-and-white world filled with exaggerated and sometimes surreal cartoon monsters. The “gibberish” appears as lengthy strings of emoji-like drawings, with each letter of the alphabet having a distinct icon. A creative and effective dramatization of the plight of new language learners. LUANN TOTH

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


 A Land of Books: Dreams of Young Mexihcah Word Painters
by Duncan Tonatiuh; illus. by the author
Primary    Abrams    48 pp.
11/22    9781419749421    $19.99
e-book ed.  9781647008550    $15.54

With his signature illustrations that draw from Mesoamerican codex pictographic aesthetics, Tonatiuh introduces a picture-book audience to the role that bookmaking played in ancient Mexihcah culture and cosmology. “Our parents are  tlahcuilohqueh, painters of words,” explains the young narrator to her brother. She describes their bookmaking process, and a series of double-page spreads shows how organic materials — such as “the bark of the amacuahuitl tree” for the amatl (paper) and “plants, animals, and rocks” for dyes and ­drawings — are used to create the amoxtin, or ­wood-covered and decorated accordion-style books made of “long strips of paper with multiple page folds.” Mastery in painting and sculpture, as well as philosophical, scientific, humanistic, and spiritual understandings of the world and life upon it, were also required; and Tonatiuh makes clear connections to illustrate how Mesoamerica was an amoxtlalpan, meaning “land of books.” The girl also explains to her brother that “noblemen, priests, and wise elders” played important roles in interpreting the complex images, symbols, and designs of the amoxtin, which they would sing and perform for others to “hear the words and admire the images.” An author’s note provides historical context, centering the importance of preserving Indigenous art (“Sadly, of the thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of books that were made in Mesoamerica before the Spanish arrived in the 1500s, only fifteen survive”), storytelling, and knowledge. A helpful pronunciation guide/glossary for the Nahuatl words used in the text and a robust bibliography are appended. LETTYCIA TERRONES

From the January/February 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Out of a Jar
by Deborah Marcero; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Putnam    40 pp.    g
2/22    978-0-593-32637-4    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-32638-1    $10.99

This follow-up to In a Jar uses straightforward language and visual metaphor to make complicated concepts accessible to young children. Llewellyn the bunny finds his feelings troublesome, so he starts stuffing them in jars and hiding them in a basement closet. Marcero (The Boy Whose Head Was Filled with Stars, rev. 1/21) explores a broad vocabulary of emotions: not just fear and sadness, but excitement, disappointment, and embarrassment. At one point Llewellyn even bottles away joy because that can be a bit much to handle sometimes. In the mixed-media illustrations, each emotion is rendered as a distinct shape, with its own color and expressive eyes that watch Llewellyn, helping to define every feeling while also suggesting that emotions may be both felt and observed. Marcero puts her protagonist in fraught situations that will be familiar to children (being left out of a group, other children laughing at them), and she incorporates comics elements throughout — including panels, word bubbles, bright colors, and cartoonish figures — to make her material less threatening and more comprehensible. As Llewellyn stuffs away more emotions, his world drains of color, only exploding back into a full range of vivid hues when he is ready “to look each feeling in the eye, give it a hug, and let it go.” The author is teaching a valuable lesson here, and her empathetic, engaging approach respects young children and meets them where they are. ADRIENNE L. PETTINELLI

From the March/April 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Somewhere in the Bayou
by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey; illus. by the authors
Preschool, Primary    Norton    56 pp.    g
3/22    978-1-324-01593-2    $17.95

The Pumphrey brothers employ understated storytelling, wry humor, and skillful cartooning throughout this entertaining original fable. The premise is simple. Four bayou critters (an opossum, a squirrel, a rabbit, and a mouse) are attempting to cross a river when they happen upon a mysterious green tail. The opossum, squirrel, and rabbit each makes a different, uninformed assumption about the tail (respectively declaring it “sneaky,” “scary,” and “mean”), but all three share the same fate: a scaly “SMACK” into the river. Only the mouse seeks out more information, discovering that the tail is tied to a log. Evoking heroic mice from folklore, the mouse frees the stranger (unsurprisingly revealed to be an alligator) with a few nibbles. An amusing tension builds when the alligator offers the mouse a ride across the river, leading to the conclusion: “I think we’ve become friends. And friends don’t eat friends. Besides…I ate some strangers earlier.” Pitch-perfect pacing develops a repetitive rhythm reminiscent of oral storytelling, while, in the illustrations, subtle variations in body language, eye position, and panel size/shape provide meaningful subtext. The earthy palette and block-print imagery are graphically grounded, while conveying plenty of textural nuance and depth through subtle layering. Both a cautionary tale and a thrilling romp, this surefire read-aloud will be embraced especially by fans of Klassen’s celebrated hat trilogy. PATRICK GALL

From the July/August 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Witch Hazel
by Molly Idle; illus. by the author
Primary    Little, Brown    40 pp.    g
10/22    978-0-316-54113-8    $18.99

As the seasons pass, young Hilda visits elderly witch Hazel. In the spring, she helps Hazel sweep her front porch; in summer, they air the music room; in fall, they clean cobwebs in Hazel’s parlor; and in winter, Hilda tidies Hazel’s room as Hazel is bedridden. Hazel reanimates past memories with her broomstick, and Hilda watches in wonder. She sees a young Hazel playing imaginatively with her cat; a teenage Hazel performing music and setting a caged bird free; and the “belle of the ball” version of Hazel, who wears a snake like a scarf and what look like Cinderella’s glass slippers (“It’s a looooong story,” she tells Hilda). During wintertime, Hilda sees all iterations of Hazel as the witch slips away from her life. The book’s palette is dominated by an earthy brown, a pleasing balance to the ethereal subject matter. Idle’s wispy, fine-lined depictions of memories are conveyed in a white that nearly glows off the terrestrial browns, as do the sparks of magic that fly through the air in graceful, flowing lines. When spring comes around again, the still-mourning Hilda returns to sweep Hazel’s porch, only to be met with a special memory of her own, and new life bursts forth in a nest in Hazel’s tree. A bewitching examination of the abiding power of memories and story. JULIE DANIELSON

From the September/October 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Yellow Dog Blues
by Alice Faye Duncan; illus. by Chris Raschka
Primary     Eerdmans    32 pp.     g
9/22     978-0-8028-5553-4     $18.99

This book about a lost dog is also a musical and cultural journey along the Mississippi Blues Trail. Duncan’s (Just like a Mama, rev. 3/20) freewheeling narrative opens with young Bo Willie waking up to an empty doghouse, an open gate, and the harsh truth: his puppy is gone. He sets out to find Yellow Dog, first asking Farmer Fred if he’s seen the pup. “Old Yella hit Highway 61,” Fred tells him, and Bo Willie is off. Mr. Yee’s son saw Yellow Dog “on Dockery Farm, where Muddy Waters played the blues.” That lead turns out to be a dead end, but Bo Willie then sees a sign for the Boogie Blues Club Merigold and hitches a ride with Aunt Jessie in her pink Cadillac. Eventually, they hear that the pup left on a Greyhound bus, traveling with a band. “Where can that little dog be?” Studying the map provides the answer: Yellow Dog has moved to Memphis. The story’s moral: some dogs are loyal, and some “ramble and run the road. They love you and then they’re gone.” Raschka’s (Mama Baby, rev. 3/20; Saint Spotting, rev. 5/21) compelling art, “created with fabric paint and embroidery thread on raw canvas,” adds a down-home feel and a bit of levity to the emotional drama. Notes about the origins of Delta Blues and the landmarks on the Mississippi Blues Trail are appended. While many of the musical references will be over the heads of the picture-book audience, this simple introduction to blues history tells a universal story of loss to which many kids will relate; and some may even admire the pup’s independent spirit. LUANN TOTH

From the September/October 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is a contributing editor to The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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