Circle Under Berry

Friends, friends, gather ‘round! Allow me to direct your attention to a deceptively simple concept book about color, shape, and pattern.

No, I’m not talking about Carter Higgins’s debut as an author-illustrator, Circle Under Berry. I’m talking about the 1990 Caldecott Honor book Color Zoo by Lois Ehlert.

That’s right: Caldecott Honor. I mention Color Zoo because that clever little book is one of the rare examples (along with Laura Vaccaro Seeger's Green, Suse MacDonald's Alpabatics, David Pelletier's The Graphic Alphabet, and very few others) of a concept book that received Caldecott recognition.

The truth is, we often overlook concept books when Caldecott time comes around. Why is this? I’m just spitballing here, but I think it might have something to do with the perceived simplicity of concept books. The type of discerning picture-book enthusiast (did I say snob? I did NOT say snob) that ends up on the Caldecott committee often favors books that focus on the more complex.

But I think the Caldecott committee will take a close look at 2021 concept-book standout Circle Under Berry. It’s engaging for the youngest of children yet sophisticated enough for any discerning picture-book enthusiast. 

Circle Under Berry is about color and shape, but also pattern, rhythm, and prepositions (under, over, next to, etc.). The book begins simply with the titular “Circle under berry” phrase — and slowly builds. Shape and color interplay, subtly shifting in rhythm and pattern, keeping the reader on their toes. Things really get loose in the second half, with shapes becoming animals and the text inviting readers to play along.

Okay, Honesty Time. Often, books that fly miles over the heads of children get all the oohs and ahhs and glory from grown-ups. But books that speak to kids? Right where they are? Overlooked. Circle Under Berry is perhaps the most kid-centric book of the year.

And while it’s true that the Caldecott isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a kids'-choice award (we have Nickelodeon for that), the Caldecott criteria does encourage the committee to consider the audience:

1b. Committee members must consider excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.

And, back to the criteria, is Circle Under Berry “individually distinct”? As individually distinct as you’re going to find this year. Does it display “excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed”? Indeed. The cut-paper art is elegant and bold. Higgins clearly has a knack for effective design. 

So, can a concept book break through to earn Caldecott recognition? It doesn’t happen often, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Circle Under Berry join that exclusive club.


[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Circle Under Berry.]

Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker
Michigan elementary-school librarian Travis Jonker is the author of the 100 Scope Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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Eric Carpenter

By the same logic of overlooked concept books, I want see Agee's Otto: A Palindrama get some Newbery consideration.

Posted : Dec 09, 2021 05:36



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