Horn Book reviews of Caldecott Medal winners, 1970-1979


WILLIAM STEIG, Author-Illustrator
ylvester and the Magic Pebble (Windmill/Simon)

Sylvester the young donkey was a pebble collector; one day he found a flaming red stone, shiny and round — and quite  unaccountably able to grant wishes. Overjoyed, Sylvester was planning to share his magic with his family when "a mean, hungry lion" appeared. Startled and panicky, Sylvester wished himself transformed into a rock. In vain his grieving parents searched for their beloved child; all the worried animals took up the hunt. Then, after months of sorrow and mourning, poor Sylvester was fortuitously but logically restored. A remarkable atmosphere of childlike innocence pervades the book; beautiful pictures in full, natural color show daily and seasonal changes in the lush countryside and greatly extend the kindly humor and the warm, unself-conscious tenderness.

reviewed in the June 1969 issue of The Horn Book Magazine


GAIL E. HALEY, Reteller-Illustrator
A Story, A Sto
ry, An African Tale (Atheneum)

The reteller of this Ananse story found in the Caribbean and traced to Africa has added to her faithful narration multicolor  woodcuts in a primitive style — printed in her own shop. In the preface she comments on the African manner of narration — with its repetition of words and phrases — and explains the relationship of the Kwaku Ananse, the "spider man," to Anancy of the Caribbean and "Aunt Nancy" in the southern United States. In this splendid example of one of the African " spider stories" (so called because it tells "how small, defenseless men or animals outwit others and succeed against great odds"), Ananse makes a pact with Nyame, the Sky God, to bring — in payment for Nyame's box of stories — Osebo the leopard of-the-terrible-teeth, Mmboro the hornet who-stings-like fire, and Mmoati the fairy whom-men-never see. Ananse succeeds in one of his quests by creating a gum baby to serve as a trap — one more variant of the all-around-the-world Tar Baby motif.

reviewed in the June 1970 issue of The Horn Book Magazine


NONNY HOGROGIAN, Author-Illustrator
e Fine Day (Macmillan)

A fox drinks all the milk from an old woman's pail, and she chops off his tail. "'Give me back my milk...and I'll give you back  your tail." Using her own variant of a familiar theme, the author sends the fox from old woman, to cow, to meadow, to water, to maiden, to peddler, to hen, to miller, and back again — a journey singularly uneventful but beautifully illustrated. The pictures are marked by skillful characterizations and a fine sense of design.

reviewed in the December 1971 issue of The Horn Book Magazine


The Funny Little Woman

Illustrated by Blair Lent

"Long ago, in Old Japan, there lived a funny little woman who liked to laugh, 'Tee-he-he-he,' and who liked to make dumplings out of rice. One morning, as she was patting and shaping the rice flour, one of the dumplings started to roll. It rolled across the table; it rolled to the edge of the table, and then fell right to the earthen floor. 'Stop,' cried the little woman. But the dumpling rolled and rolled until it rolled down a hole." Retold from Lafcadio Hearn, the tale unfolds in a simple tellable style. As the woman reached for the dumpling, the earth opened and down she tumbled into eerie underground depths. Unafraid and still giggling, she was captured by the wicked, monstrous oni and forced to cook for them. Here she bided her time; and finally undertook to escape — an episode as suspense fully comic as any in folklore. Using elements of traditional Japanese art, the illustrator has made marvelously imaginative pictures which follow the action and rise to a climactic doublespread. All the inherent drama and humor of the story are manifest in the illustrations: the toothy, fearsome oni; their weird, watery-green subterranean house contrasting with tiny drawings of the deserted little house above-ground; the swirling river like the River Styx in a cavernous Underworld; and the ever merry, dauntless figure of the little woman in her gay orange kimono.

reviewed in the December 1972 issue of The Horn Book Magazine


and the Devil (Farrar)

Illustrated by Margot Zemach

In the retelling of a Cornish version of the Rumpelstiltskin legend, Squire Lovel of Trove rescues Duffy from her querulous mistress and spirits her away to help with domestic chores. But when Duffy exclaims, "The devil can make Squire Lovel's stockings for all I care!' " an "oogly little squinny-eyed creature with a long tail," appears and assumes Duffy's knitting and spinning chores. Making the traditional bargain, the oogly creature fashions garments which so enamor the Squire that Duffy becomes the Squire's wife, Lady Duffy Lovel of Trove. But the legend has been slightly twisted at the end, for when Duffy guesses the Devil's name and he disappears, so does his knitting; and Squire Lovel is left standing on the moors with only a hat and a cane to comfort him against the cold and piercing day. The artist employs her typical pastel coloring, but the use of shading and perspective to create entire scenes is highly unusual for her, and the illustrations far surpass anything she has done to date. The author embues the story with wry humor, invented words, and slightly edgy statements, which are perfectly exploited in the illustrations: Duffy sitting "herself ladylike" on the horse, and the witches taking a swig of beer. The legend of Rumpelstiltskin has probably never seemed as funny as in this version by the author-artist team.

reviewed in the October 1973 issue of The Horn Book Magazine


GERALD McDERMOTT, Adapter-Illustrator
Arrow to the Sun: A Pueblo Indian Tale

The artist, who derived Anansi the Spider and The Magic Tree (both Holt) from two of his films based on African folklore, has  tumed to a Pueblo Indian tale for his new venture. This time, the film and the picture book have been produced concurrently. The Lord of the Sun sent a spark of life to earth, and it became the Boy. When he grew older, he sought his father — until finally, Arrow-Maker made an arrow of Boy and sent him to the sun. There he proved himself in four kivas and returned to the earth  bearing his father's spirit and power. The simple, brief text — which suggests similar stories in religion and folklore — is amply illustrated in full-page and doublespread pictures. The geometrically stylized figures and backgrounds are first presented in black and in tawny hues ranging from yellow through orange to brown. But when the arrow is shot to the sun, reds, blues, and greens bring vibrant and dramatic accents to the basic black-and-tawny tonality of the book. The strong colors and the bold angular forms powerfully accompany the text; and even on those pages where there is no text, both colors and form are visually eloquent.

reviewed in the August 1974 issue of The Horn Book Magazine


Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears: A West African Tale

Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon

In a cumulative tale, a boastful mosquito triggers a concatenation of mischief-making events. Iguana, python, rabbit, crow, monkey, and owl all become innocent links in a chain of exasperating accidents. The tale of trouble finally ends when King Lion steps in and orders the offender punished. Some years ago, another version of the story was published — Benjamin Elkins's Why the Sun Was Late (Parents) — in which satisfactory but undistinguished pictures accompany the straightforward storytelling. The new book, illustrated by two superbly gifted artists, presents an interesting, though disturbing, contrast; and it brings up some fundamental questions about the role of illustrations in picture books and about the delicate but crucial balance between graphics and text. Sophisticated in design and impressive in technique, the full-color spreads have a lush, forceful splendor which almost overshadows humorous, naive folk tale. The characters, looking like sculpturesque prototypes, seem inappropriate for a story which is not — after all — a legend of epic proportions but only a simple animal fable.

reviewed in the April 1976 issue of The Horn Book Magazine


Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions (Dial)
Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon

In brief texts arranged in alphabetical order, each accompanied by a large framed illustration, the author introduces "the reader to twenty-six African peoples by depicting a custom important to each." Her purpose is to "give the reader not only a feeling for the vastness of the African continent and the variety of her peoples but for the place that tradition holds at the very heart of African life." In fulfilling her purpose, she has been aided immeasurably by the illustrators; and the pictures, which admirably embody the subject matter of the book, are worthy of independent discussion as works of art. In most of the paintings the artists "have included a man, a woman, a child, their living quarters, an artifact, and a local animal" and have, in this way, stressed the human and the natural ambience of the various peoples depicted. Without falling into banality or conventionality, the paintings, for which pastels, watercolors, and acrylics were employed, suggest the idealism and dignity of murals. The clearly limned figures often recall the contours of African wood sculpture but are subordinated to the carefully composed placement of diagonals and parallels. The jewellike effect of the blues, greens, and reds, often presented in patterned contrast, are likewise subordinated to the overall tawny tonality of the pictures. The controlled, rich art successfully glorifies the great variety of folkways found among the Black peoples of Africa.

reviewed in the April 1977 issue of The Horn Book Magazine


PETER SPIER, Illustrator
Noah's Ark (Doubleday)

A seventeenth-century Dutch poem, "The Flood" by Jacobus Revius, opens the otherwise almost wordless book. Skillfully translated by the artist and set in a readable, appropriately archaic type, the artlessly reverent verses add an unexpected dimension to the full-color pictures. Peter Spier's characteristic panoramas are marvels of minute detail, activity, vitality, and humor; a few of the scenes are quiescent and serenely beautiful. The artwork is presented on single pages and panels, and even the handsome endpapers, title page, and half-title page add to the dramatic narrative. Another outstanding work by an artist whose picture books are notable for their aesthetic quality, integrity, and engaging wholesomeness.


PAUL GOBLE, Author-Illustrator
The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses

A story of an Indian girl who feels such a strong kinship with the wild horses grazing near her village that she eventually becomes  one of them. During a thunderstorm she is carried away on the back of one of the horses and agrees to stay among them in the  hills. When members of her tribe discover her whereabouts and bring her home, she is so unhappy that she becomes ill; and her family realizes where her true home must be. Brilliantly colored illustrations are similar in style to those in Custer's Last Battle, The Fetterman Fight (both Pantheon), and Lone Bull's Horse Raid (Bradbury), but much less restrained. Elaborate double-page spreads burst with life, revealing details of flowers and insects, animals and birds. The swirling thunderstorm is dramatically shown with zigzags of yellow lightning against black skies. Often creatures are drawn in pairs — woodchucks, rabbits, lizards, and owls — and the concluding scene shows two wild horses magnificently framed against a burning red sun. The story is told in simple language, and the author has included verses of a Navaho and a Sioux song about horses. Both storytelling and art express the harmony with and the love of nature which characterize Native American culture.

reviewed in the 1978 issue of The Horn Book Magazine

These reviews of 1970s Caldecott Medal–winning titles are part of our Caldecott at 75 celebration. Click here for more archival Horn Book material on Gerald McDermott and Arrow to the Sun.
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