Reviews of the CSK Illustrator Award winners 2015

Illustrator Award Winner: Christopher Myers for Firebird

copeland_firebirdFirebird: Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How to Dance like the Firebird
by Misty Copeland; 
illus. by Christopher Myers
Primary Putnam 40 pp.
9/14 978-0-399-16615-0 $17.99 g

Think you can simply write off celebrity books? Think again. American Ballet Theatre soloist Copeland is just as graceful with words as she is with her body. Here she addresses the next generation as she imagines a dialogue between herself and a young female African American ballet student who claims she is “gray as rain / heavy as naptime, low as a storm pressing on rooftops.” Copeland reassures the girl that she had the same self-doubts, and “darling child, don’t you know / you’re just where I started.” Myers’s stunning collages layer strips of thickly painted paper to echo the wings of a firebird (Copeland’s signature role), whether they are illustrating the stage curtains or a cloudy sky. His deep, rich colors make even the portraits of the dancers at rest dramatic, and when the dancers are on stage, they seem to fly. The words of the girl appear in italics and the dancer’s words in boldface to clearly differentiate between the speakers. In an author’s note, Copeland tells us that, as a child, she never saw herself in ballet books; this book encourages today’s aspiring dancers of all colors and backgrounds. KATHLEEN T. HORNING

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Illustrator Honor Winners:

Christian Robinson for Josephine

powell_josephinestar2 Josephine:
The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

by Patricia Hruby Powell; 
illus. by Christian Robinson
Intermediate, Middle School Chronicle 104 pp.
2/14 978-1-4521-0314-3 $17.99

To describe Josephine Baker’s life as “dazzling” is not an exaggeration. In this incomparable biography both Powell and Robinson convey the passion, exuberance, dignity, and eccentricity of their subject through words and pictures that nearly jump off the page. There is a surprise at every turn as we learn how Baker, at fifteen, hid inside a costume trunk to stow away with a dance troupe. We see how she managed to stand out in a chorus line by crossing her eyes and acting goofy to win over audiences. We find her walking down the Champs-Élysées with her pet leopard, Chiquita, who wore a diamond choker. You think her life couldn’t get any more interesting? Wait until you hear about her years as a spy for the French Resistance. Or about the twelve children she adopted from all over the world (her “rainbow tribe”), to prove that people of different races could live together. Matter-of-factly introducing the racism her subject encountered throughout her life, Powell doesn’t shy away from the challenges Baker faced, but she makes clear that Baker never let them overwhelm the joy she got from performing and living life to its fullest. Robinson’s highly stylized illustrations, using bold colors and a flat perspective, are at once sophisticated and inviting to young readers. Even the few pages without pictures are made visually interesting by the broad strokes of acrylic paint in the background and by the clean typeface that judiciously uses uppercase to accentuate important words or lines in the text. Direct quotes from Baker — translated from the French, of course — are interspersed throughout. C’est magnifique! KATHLEEN T. HORNING

From the May/June 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Frank Morrison for Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

russell-brown_little melbaLittle Melba and Her Big Trombone
by Katheryn Russell-Brown; 
illus. by Frank Morrison
Primary Lee & Low 40 pp.
7/14 978-1-60060-898-8 $18.95 g

From the time she was a little girl, Melba Liston loved music, especially the jazz music that surrounded her while she was growing up, first in Kansas City and then in Los Angeles. Given the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument at age seven, she chose the trombone. It was not a traditional choice for a girl, especially a small girl whose arms weren’t even long enough yet to push out the slide. But Melba wasn’t a traditional girl. She persisted, and with the support of her family and her teachers, she excelled. By age seventeen, she was ready to tour as a member of jazz trumpeter Gerald Wilson’s new band. She played with the greats, including Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones, and was almost always the only woman in the band (except on her tour with Billie Holiday). As a woman, she faced as many barriers and challenges as she did as an African American musician traveling through the mid-twentieth-century South. But Melba was highly sought out, as a band member, session musician, composer, and arranger. Russell-Brown’s account of her subject’s early life is as smooth and stimulating as a Liston trombone solo, and will leave readers wanting to know more about the woman and her music. Morrison’s oil paintings, in his trademark elongated, angular style, perfectly convey the jazz scene and, of course, Melba’s amazing horn. KATHLEEN T. HORNING

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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