Emile and the Field

[Calling Caldecott posts this season will begin with the Horn Book Magazine review of the featured book, followed by the post's author's critique.]


Emile and the Field
by Kevin Young; illus. by Chioma Ebinama
Preschool    Make Me a World/Random    40 pp.    g
3/22    978-1-9848-5042-3    $17.99
Library ed.  978-1-9848-5043-0    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-1-9848-5044-7    $10.99

Young Emile, his dog at his side, frequents a field that is “wide and blue” and filled with flowers, bumblebees, and his favorite maple tree. Throughout the seasons, Emile talks to the field, asking if it misses things it doesn’t know, such as the sea, and marvels at what the field does know, such as the stars in a mesmerizing night sky. When he visits one winter day with his father, Emile expresses his dismay over having to share the field with others (i.e., a group of loud children, sledding). His father’s response brings him comfort and ­purpose. With gentle rhythms, Young’s verse captures the boy’s observations with an emotional honesty (Emile wonders why the sledders didn’t secure his “say-so” to visit); with an ­authenticity true to the impassioned feelings of ­children (Emile is described as being “in love” with the field); and with a tenderness that is touching but never ­saccharine. Ebinama brings this story of a Black boy having an immersive outdoor ­experience to life with delicate lines and lush and ­atmospheric ­watercolors; Emile in his puffy red coat, making a snow angel, is a reverent nod to Keats’s Peter in The Snowy Day. The yellows, in ­particular, nearly glow in the form of flowers, bumblebees, and the golden hues of fall. What Emile learns from his father (“The field would not, could not be bought! or belong to anyone”) is a satisfying conclusion to this exquisite story of one boy’s unfettered delight in nature. JULIE DANIELSON

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


At the start of his wondrous text for Emile and the Field, renowned poet and essayist (and Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture) Kevin Young writes, "There was a boy / named Emile / who fell / in love with a field. / It was wide /and blue-- /and if you could have / seen it / so would've you." The sweet irony of this grabber of an opening is that thanks to Chioma Ebinawa's evocative and immersive watercolor and ink illustrations, we readers can see this enchanting field in all its colorful glory. Throughout the seasons and from different angles. And we agree with Emile. This field is indeed a heavenly place.

For this book about a boy in love with this natural wonderland to work, the artist must create visuals that live up to the child's adoration. Spread after spread, Ebinawa shows why and how this field has cast a spell on Emile. She uses Young's spare yet vividly poetic text as a springboard to play with colors, moods, and textures (as a commentator named Alice on Julie Danielson's blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast said, "Love the textured paper showing in the prints").

The book begins in the spring, and Ebinawa creates panoramic, cinematic double-page spreads showing Emile surrounded by flowers, grasses, and trees that burst with various shades of blues, reds, and greens. A close-up view depicts our wide-eyed protagonist interacting with a grasshopper and the yellowest of flowers. As spring changes to summer, a giddy Emile follows a bumblebee that encourages him to wander. In an effective touch, Ebinawa frames the action in a circle, then a larger oval, and then, with the flip of a page, a beautiful wordless double-page spread where he leaps with joy. His beloved little dog, accompanying him in every scene, emerges as a vibrant and expressive character as well.

Ebinawa slightly alters the color palette in the gorgeous autumn scenes, bringing in beautiful browns and oranges. A hazy quality gives these passages a melancholy feel, perfectly mirroring Emile's contemplative state. He has questions about what the field doesn't know (the sea? skyscrapers?) and does know (the stars? the fall?). Here Ebinawa deftly mixes in a playful snapshot of the dog looking blissed out while rolling in the fall leaves.

Most of the book's narrative drama occurs in the winter scene. First, Emile's dad must comfort him now that snow has covered the field's colors. Then the boy becomes distraught when he sees other children playing in his space. Working as a striking visual contrast to the white and gray background, the colors of children's coats pop off the page. In a stylized scene (we do not see the characters' faces), the dad advises Emile that this field belongs to everyone. The exquisitely rendered body language captures the warm bond between parent and child. Feeling sufficiently reassured, Emile smiles happily and makes a snow angel. As Danielson says in her Horn Book review above, this moment might remind readers of another boy in a red jacket, Peter in Ezra Jack Keats's The Snowy Day.

Young and Ebinawa then take us full circle as the action shifts back to spring and warmer tones. And possibly a new friend for Emile.

Everything else about the book shines. Ebinawa fills the endpapers with beautiful flowers and leaves. The reader can practically hear the buzz of the bee flying through them. A peek under the cover reveals another view of the field's charms. Even the lettering used for the title, all in lowercase, has an understated grace.

With this title, there might be some discussion about the eligibility of the artist. The Caldecott's terms and conditions say that "the award is restricted to citizens or residents of the United States." Happily, Ebinawa (who currently lives in Greece) is eligible because she was born in the United States.

So that's good news for Emile and the Field. This look at a boy loving and pondering nature excels thanks to distinguished illustrations that celebrate a remarkable text. Here's hoping the committee takes a walk with Emile through this beautiful field.

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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