Caldecott 2014 continued some more

There are two more spring books that have caught my Caldecotty attention:

round is a tortillaRound is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes

written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong

illustrated by John Parra

Chronicle, 2013

To begin with, this book is supremely lovely. Of course, lots of books are lovely, and loveliness is not a particular criterion for Caldecott consideration. But let’s just put that out there. Parra’s figure work is warm and personal, simultaneously accessible and specific. His largely symmetrical composition affords the imagery some organizational clarity, making it especially easy on the eye (and enhancing the shape identification, to boot). But there is much to admire beyond the simple beauty. The color work is extraordinary. Parra sets vibrant reds and oranges against grayed-out blues and greens. The unexpected result, with its dramatic sense of light and shadow, enhances the sense of place. It feels like a hot day in the Mexican shade. The treatment of shapes is suitably sophisticated. Rhyming verse calls attention to one shape at a time, and while many of the shape in question are present for searching and finding, there are other shapes represented, too.

And if ever there was a book jacket optimized to accept a golden circle sticker, this is it. I mean, really.

henris scissorsHenri’s Scissors

written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter

Simon and Schuster, 2013

Illustrating a picture book about a famous artist is no small thing. How does the illustrator capture the essence of the artist’s style without resorting to mimicry, expressing without copying? Jeanette Winter makes it look easy. In this simple picture book biography of Henri Matisse she employs color to set Matisse’s artwork apart from its contextual environs, replicating the vibrant artwork with rich, saturated color and using a more reserved, pastel palette for the artist and his surroundings. She structures the story carefully, covering the first 70 years of his life in the first few pages and dedicating the balance of the book to the paper-cutting for which he is most celebrated today. Matisse made the technical discovery while recovering from a severe, debilitating illness, and Winter reflects its transformational power with a major compositional shift. The exposition unfolds with images in small, tight squares on a clean, buff ground. At the pivotal moment of discovery, when the artist finds his way to creation again, the images break across the entire spread, reaching beyond the edge of the page in expressive freedom. Most picture books contribute to the storytelling with representative imagery. Using the art itself to tell the story, in its structural design, adds layers of meaning to an already illuminating story. I’d call that excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.

Anyone out there excited about any 2013 American picture books?

Caldecott 2014

It may be early to begin handicapping the 2014 Caldecott Medal (the committee won’t meet for its first round of deliberations until the end of next month), but this is already proving to be a strong year in picture books. I have  encountered some extraordinary titles that are, each in its own way, individually distinct. Let’s take a look, shall we? I’ll start with three today, and add some more in the coming days.

In alphabetical order by author (I am a librarian, remember):

dream friendsDream Friends

written and illustrated by You Byun

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013

A shy little girl develops a deep friendship with a ginormous white cat, though their relationship exists only in her dreams. Those dreams become the foundation for a real life friendship, though, which soon blossoms into playgrounds-full of playpals and one flesh-and-blood BFF. The story is a sweet one, sometimes a little too sweet, but the digitally manipulated pen and ink illustrations are magnificent. Byun has a glorious sense of color, which she manages carefully to distinguish between the lands of life and dreaming. She engages her unfettered imagination in the depiction of the dream world, peppering the fantastical landscapes with flying origami cranes, pendulant upside-down clock towers,  bedroom forests festooned with bonnets, and confectionary firework displays. The artist spent her childhood in Japan and Korea, and the recognizable element of kawaii to her drawings only adds to the charm. But beyond the beauty of the images, it is Byun’s ability to establish mood, communicate emotion, and define relationships with shape and color that really distinguish this elegant outing.

flora and the flamingoFlora and the Flamingo

illustrated by Molly Idle

Chronicle Books, 2013

This interactive wordless book introduces Flora, dressed in a pink bathing costume and yellow swim cap, to a similarly pink flamingo, and the two engage in a sort of mirrored dance. The flamingo engages in a gorgeous display, extending legs and draping wings in elegant expression. Flora tries to follow along but her clumsy positions are not entirely successful. Seeing her despair, the flamingo offers assistance, and soon the two have achieved a perfect compromise. Idle is artful with the “toy-and-movable” component. Individual flaps expose individual poses, as Flora struggles to match the flamingo’s grace. When the two really join forces, a single flap perfectly expresses their combination, and their dance takes flight. A final, irresistible double-gatefold completes the lesson, as Flora takes over the instruction and the flamingo follows in her exuberant footsteps. I don’t know if the Caldecott Committee has ever recognized a book with an interactive element, but given its ingenious application here, it’s hard to imagine that they won’t be looking carefully.

nino wrestles the worldNiño Wrestles the World

written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Roaring Brook Press, 2013

Niño is a pint-sized luchador who takes on all manner of pretend opponents in his living-room lucha libre ring. Each of his foes is imagined from pieces of Mexican culture, from Olmec Head to the Weeping Woman. Ultimately it is LAS HERMANITAS who prove to be the worthiest adversaries. But he clearly loves those little sisters, and the three become LOS TRES HERMANOS, establishing themselves as the team to beat. Morales works in digital collage, rearranging her handcrafted watercolors and woodblock images, inserting pieces of photography here and there. The typography is suitable exclamatory, and feels like part of Niño’s vivid imagination. As irresistible as the images are, to me the book’s standout element is the fact that it explores a quintessential childhood experience–imaginative play–in a way that is simultaneously culturally specific and universal. The Caldecott terms and criteria being what they are, the Committee will need to process that value in terms of its distinguished illustrations. I’d be happy to make the case.


What’s little and round and needs to be read to every day?

A baby, that’s what. Thankfully, there is no shortage of wonderful, baby-friendly reading material out there. Here are a few recent titles that caught our attention:

now im bigNow I’m Big!

by Karen Katz

McElderry Boos, 2013

Karen Katz has dozens of bright, ebullient, irresistible board and picture books to her credit, all populated with her unmistakably round baby figures, in vivid, technicolor glory. This time around a collection of toddlers reminisce about their long-ago infancy. Each spread has a baby on the left suffering some baby indignity (When I was a baby I had to wear diapers) followed by the grown-up toddler celebrating new found preschool prowess (NOW I’M BIG! I can wear underpants and poo in the toilet). The final situation has a little girl welcoming a new baby to the family, offering a litany of all the ways she can help, now that she’s big. While toddlers will love feeling all grown-up, the bright colors, expressive faces and simple illustrative style make this a winner for the brand-newest little ones, too.

faces for babyFaces for Baby

curated by Yana Peel

Templar Books, 2013

In 2009 Templar Books created an exquisite board book of black and white fine art reproductions specially selected for babies’ taste for bold, high-contrast imagery. This follow up taps in to babies’ interest in faces, offering twelve modern depictions of the human face in varying styles. The composition is uncluttered, with nothing but the image, with the artist’s name and date of the work printed unobtrusively below. Brief biographical information of the artists represented appears on the verso and a circular mirror on the final page stands apart from the series of rectangular pieces, distinguishing baby’s face from the others. A luxe and lovely package.

you are my baby farmYou Are My Baby: Farm

by Lorena Siminovich

Chronicle, 2013

This charming, ingenious board book takes advantage of a deceptively simple die-cut process, making a matching game of farm animal parents and their young. On each large page a grown-up farm animal describes her baby, complete with a color reference (You have a curly pink tail) and on the smaller pages the baby is pictured, identified by name, and the animal sound is communicated (You are my baby, little piglet. Oink! Oink!). The large and small pages turn independent of one another, though careful use of backgrounds that contrast in color and texture facilitates easy matching. With all sorts of developmental concepts at play (colors, patterns, animal names and sounds, matching, motor skills) this winning volume and it’s sister volume You Are My Baby: Safari fire on all baby cylinders.

What are your favorite books for baby?

Open This Little Book

open this little bookOpen This Little Book

written by Jesse Klausmeier

illustrated by Suzy Lee

Chronicle Books, 2013

In a world where meta is everywhere, a book turning in on itself might come across as trendy or superficial. Indeed, many such books do. But the overuse of a particular approach to storytelling does not make such an approach necessarily obsolete. It does, however, raise the storytelling bar. To transcend the dangers of gimmickry, a meta picture book needs to weave together its plot, text and illustration into a tight and cohesive package, in service of a reverberant message. Fixing meta’s self reflection in some meaningful purpose grounds it, rescuing the by-definition disconnectedness of the narrative from flapping in the literary breeze. When done right, this kind of circular storytelling packs a real wallop, and such is the case with Open This Little Book.

The book is literally a number of books inside one another, each smaller than the last, each identified by a different colored cover (purple, red, green, orange, yellow, blue), each “opened” in succession by a different character (reader, ladybug, frog, rabbit, bear, giant), and then consumed and read in reverse order, arriving at the end with a compelling case for more. More books. More reading. More community. The clarity of Klausmeier’s text, clean and simple and exact, and the way she establishes and then breaks the patterned structure, shows more than tells us about the seductive sway of a well-written book. Suzy Lee’s careful illustrations begin in monochrome with the singular color of the little books’ titles. With each successive opening we have more colors in which to delight, and by the time we arrive at the final scene, with all of our friends, plus many more, luxuriating beneath and within a polychrome tree full of books, the remarkably appealing rainbow of variety stands as an immediate, resonant symbol of the endless glories of books and reading.

This is a book you need to find and experience with your own hands and eyes (and spirit). I include the book trailer below to give you a sense of the mechanics and the mood, but there is no substitute for opening this little book yourself.

For your consideration 2

Our Caldecott consideration continues with a fascinating book of poetry about strange habitats and their stranger inhabitants.

A Strange Place to Call Home

Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Ed Young

Chronicle, 2012

Ed Young has been on something of a stylistic tear of late. He strikes me as one of those undeterrable illustrators compelled to pursue a particular vision. Of course the Caldecott Committee is forbidden from considering a body of work. But A Strange Place to Call Home gives them plenty to consider in a single package. Singer presents fourteen different unlikely animal habitats in poems as different as their subjects. And Young goes to town (quite literally, in the case of some urban foxes). These are not the warm and fuzzy animals of petting zoos. These are peculiar and wild and just a little off-putting, and Young’s mysterious collages do them enigmatic justice. In many of the spreads the subject is not immediately identifiable, never mind recognizable. These images require attention, and reward it with curiosity. Neither the poetry nor the images explain these unfamiliar creatures, but their mysterious expression compells us to wonder and to investigate. And, really, what more can we ask than that?