CaldeNott Results!

Yesterday evening twelve dutiful children’s book discussers met to consider a selection of picture books of international provenance, applying the Caldecott Medal terms and criteria to picture books ineligible for the actual award, in hopes of learning about some wonderful books, and the Caldecott Medal itself, in the process. We began with 18 very different books (you can find our complete discussion list here) and ended up with one winner and three honor books.

Our honor books are:

tiny creaturesTiny Creatures: The World of Microbes

illustrated by Emily Sutton (England)

written by Nicola Davies (Wales),

Candlewick Press, 2014

A scientific exploration of microbes explains their natural existence and celebrates the intricacies of their ecological function. Our committee appreciated Sutton’s use of scale, visually explaining the size and amount of the microbes around us; the friendly, approachable tone of her watercolor paintings, reinforcing the book’s even, almost enthusiastic approach to its subject; and the repeated presence of two children, not mentioned in the text, who, in their constant dress and curious attitude, serve as a ready point of access for the young reader.

at the same moment around the worldAt the Same Moment Around the World

illustrated and written by Clotilde Perrin (France)

Chronicle, 2014

This magical book circles the globe, exploring different children’s experiences at a single moment in time. We begin at 6:00am in Senegal, and travel east across time zones, to France, to Bulgaria, to Iraq, as kids of all stripes work, play, eat and dream. Each spread moves from one country to the next, connecting otherwise disparate locales and delivering a powerful message of human continuity. We appreciated the tall trim size, reflecting the longitudinal time zones; the attention to detail, with watery endpapers suggesting the surrounding oceans; and the indelible warmth of the culturally specific depictions. The final, fold-out map, that names the children and fixes them on the globe, adds concrete understanding to the sensitive expression of community.

rules of summerRules of Summer

illustrated and written by Shaun Tan (Australia)

Scholastic, 2014.

Two brothers offer fantastical, superstitious interpretations of a collection of seemingly pedestrian rules, brought to bigger-than-life through Tan’s edgy, immersive, dreamlike paintings. While each of the rules comes to individual life in its own spread, Tan links them together in an emotional arc that traces a bumpy, competitive, and ultimately tender relationship between two brothers who appear together, at the story’s end, surrounded by drawings of their imaginative adventures. We appreciated the painterly precision of the drama; the powerfully depicted relationship; the curious, sometimes impenetrable symbolism of birds and crowns; and the way the sinister undercurrent of the imaginings resolves into dependable comfort.

And our CaldeNott Medal goes to:

foxs gardenFox’s Garden

illustrated by Princess Camcam (Germany)

Enchanted Lion, 2014

A fox seeks shelter for herself and her babies and, when chased from a house on a wintry night, takes refuge in the nearby greenhouse. The house’s boy delivers a basket of sustenance, and the fox repays the kindness, decorating his bedroom with flowers as he sleeps. Princess Camcam creates her illustrations in three dimensions, photographing dioramas of intricately cut and painted paper, carefully arranged and lit. The effect is intimate and tranquil, with hushed colors, soft shadows, and an immediate sense of place. The artist’s careful use of sharp and cloudy focus pulls the viewer into the images, and her supreme command of light conveys the chill of the air, the stillness of the snow, and the arrival of the morning. Simply breathtaking.

It was noted that ours is not a “mock” endeavor but is instead, as the only one of its kind, the CaldeNott. Boom. It was also noted that we have chosen a book about a fox two years in a row. Make of that what you will.

This fall we’ll (re)turn our attention to international picture books, to do this all over again in 2016. Feel free to send any candidate titles my way. In the meantime, I’ll be off to the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair with a group of students in March, in search of our own. We’ll keep you posted.

Mock CaldeNott – January 15, 2015

memory of an elephantJoin us for our second annual Mock CaldeNott discussion on Thursday, January 15, 2015! Once again we’ll investigate a collection of extraordinary picture books from the previous year, using the Caldecott terms and criteria as our guide to illustrative excellence. The special component of our experience is that we’re looking at books that are ineligible for the actual Caldecott Medal due to their international provenance. It’s extra-informative and super-fun. You should really come.

Beginning at 5:00pm we’ll have an opportunity to review the picture books in contention (with light refreshments). Indeed, all of the books are currently available for preview in the Butler Center at any time (any time we’re open, anyway).

Our formal deliberations will begin at 7:00pm. Woohoo.

Here are the books we’re looking at:

Two Tough Crocs by David Bedford, illustrated by Tom Jellett, Holiday House, 2014

Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam, Enchanted Lion, 2014

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton, Candlewick, 2014

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton, Candlewick, 2014

Anna’s Heaven by Stian Hole, Eerdmans, 2014

Fall Leaves by Loretta Holland, illustrated by Elly MacKay, HMH, 2014

The Dinner that Cooked Itself by J.C. Hsyu and Kenard Pak, Flying Eye Books, 2014

Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat by Ayano Imai, minedition, 2014

Midnight Library by Kazuno Kahara, Roaring Brook Press, 2014

Moví la mano / I Moved My Hand by Jorge Luján, illustrated by Mandana Sadat, Groundwood Books, 2014

Children Growing Up in War by Jenny Matthews, Candlewick, 2014

At the Same Moment Around the World by Clotilde Perrin, Chronicle, 2014

Jim Curious by Matthias Picard, Abrams, 2014

The Mouse Mansion by Karina Schaapman, Dial, 2014

The Memory of an Elephant by Sophie Strady, illustrated by Jean-François Martin, Chronicle, 2014

Rules of Summer by Sean Tan, Scholastic, 2015

Goal! by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Caio Vilela, Henry Holt, 2014

The Big Book of Slumber by Giovanna Zoboli, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani, Eerdmans, 2014

children growing up with warRSVP/Questions in the form below!

Ghost in the House

ghostGhost in the House

by Ammi-Joan Paquette

illustrated by Adam Record

Candlewick 2013

I love Halloween, and I love things that are creepy…but oddly enough I don’t like to be scared.  Haunted houses?  Forget it!  So it’s no wonder that I’ve fallen in love with Ghost in the House written by Ammi-Joan Paquette and illustrated by Adam Record. This is a haunted house I’d actually like to visit.

The story starts off on a black page with the simple exclamation “Boo!”  On the next page a ghost appears—the most adorable ghost you’ve ever seen (yes, even more than Casper).  This structure continues, enunciating the creepy sounds the house makes and breaking tension with a collection of friendly creatures: a mummy, a monster, a skeleton, and a witch.  Finally the creatures stumble upon something that really frightens them—a human boy.

This book somehow manages to maintain the traditional eeriness we associate with haunted houses, which includes striped wall paper, creaking stairs, and shadows at every turn.  Yet its full of bright and contrasting colors.  The creatures themselves are vibrant, even as they wander down dark and gray hallways.  You might even wonder what this cheery bunch is doing in such a spooky place.

I love how simply and effectively the illustrations reflect the text.  Two eyes on a black background and the ghost’s worried expression reveal the characters’ unease.  Possibly my favorite page features the human boy, with a wide-eyed look that conveys his bafflement.  As the creatures run away, the boy looks straight at the reader and shrugs, as if to say, “What can you do?”

As you’re visiting haunted houses, or perhaps haunting them yourself, “on this dark, spooky night,” it’s always good to remember that there isn’t a creature scarier than a human.  Have a Happy Halloween!

KP

Here is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays

here is the worldHere is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays

written by Lesléa Newman

illustrated by Susan Gal

Abrams, 2014

Sometimes I love a book on sight. It’s not fair, I know, or smart, really, to offer up my affection before I have really gotten to know the book a little, but sometimes I can’t help it. I had just such a reaction to this book. And I’m happy to report that deeper study and familiarity prove that my instincts were right. It’s splendid. And this, Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish year, seems the perfect day to sing its praises.

My affection began with the images. They are bright and cheerful and immediately arresting, but that basic appeal is just the beginning of their wonder. Susan Gal is a master of composition and shape. Every spread exhibits ordered balance and movement, reinforcing the sense of celebration with steady energy. And her figure work is just exquisite, with impeccable proportion and individual consistency. This seems a small thing, perhaps, but I can think of plenty of illustrators, some of them household names, who don’t approach the skillful grace of this warm, vital portraiture.

The color work enjoys the same sense of energy and balance, with rich, saturated jewel tones humming beside one another, glowing with naturalistic light. Indeed, whether lit by sunlight or stars, every spread elicits a sense of presence, so immediate is the setting.

And Gal employs all of this skill and style to a cumulative visual story that threads the family’s experience through the year. These holidays are not abstract, isolated festivities, but the real and meaningful celebrations of a close family.

For her part, Newman’s rhythmic verse scans beautifully (would that all rhyming text scan this well!), inviting, even imploring to be read aloud. But, just like the pictures, there’s substance behind the style, with family as the central theme.

This wonderful book will find its way to many libraries because of its useful and  accessible treatment of important cultural information, but I sure hope it has a chance to extend beyond its simple utility and has a chance to delight with its profound and handsome charms.

Shanah tovah.

PicWits!

picwits instructionsThis week we wrapped up our consideration of picture books in the Children’s Literature course I’m teaching, and we began class with a rousing game of PicWits! Do you know PicWits!? It’s a party game, much like Apples to Apples, that has players matching cards in their hand to a single phrase, with individuals taking turns choosing which card best represents the phrase in question. What’s unique about PicWits! is that the phrase is a “caption” and the cards in people’s hands are all photographs. You earn points when the chooser chooses the picture you matched to the caption. So, the game’s central point is the visual interpretation of the text. See where I’m going with this?

To begin with, the game is lots of fun. The images themselves represent a huge variety of theme and execution, and are often bizarre, leading to plentiful opportunities for provocative, sometimes outrageous pairings. But beyond the hilarity, our experience gave rise to some really interesting and illuminating thoughts about how picture books function, and what we can and should make of the symbiotic relationships between words and text. Here are some of our ideas:

Possibilities are endless. No matter how clearly you see and understand a phrase, others will see and understand it differently. Even given the limitations of having only a few cards to match from at any given time, there’s still remarkable variety in the relationships established between the single caption and the many visual interpretations offered. Indeed, no matter what picture you match with a phrase, there will be some relationship, even if it is one of tension or discord. Picture book illustrations can take advantage of that same infinite possibility, affecting just as many different responses.

Know your audience. We learned pretty rapidly that different people respond differently to different images. Martina* likes pictures of cute kids. Lynne* hates squirrels (HATES). before too long one learns to play to the chooser, making the match accordingly. We saw a direct parallel between that sort of play, and an illustrator’s attention to audience/age range.

Some pictures are just cute. Some pictures are just cute, and will be chosen, regardless of their interpretation of the caption in question. It’s the way of the world. Similarly, some picture books will find a broad audience due to their visual appeal, irrespective of how well they do (or do not) interpret the text in question or deliver any other literary element. That’s OK. It doesn’t make those bad books. But it is something to remember as we examine large numbers of picture books and parse their success.

The pairing that works is the pairing that works. It can be difficult to predict which pairing is going to capture someone’s attention. Literal is not necessarily best, but neither is ironic. So much depends upon the context, and the players. In terms of connections to picture book evaluation, this reminded us that the only thing we have to judge is the picture book in front of us, and that gives us plenty to talk about!

picwitsHere are a few students going to PicWits! town.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The Caldecott measuring stick

measuring stickThe Caldecott terms and criteria constitute a particular, prescriptive lens through which to look at picture book illustration. The Caldecott Medal is arguably the most prestigious prize a picture book can win, and as such the specific elements and attributes it recognizes have a particular role to play as we examine and evaluate books in the canon. To be sure, the Caldecott terms and criteria are not the only measure we can apply. Indeed, in our day to day work with children, other things–iconic characterization, accessibility, suitability for a group read aloud–can be much more significant. Still, measuring picture books with the Caldecott measuring stick allows us to delve deeply into the quality of the illustration, and gives us meaningful information about the application and legacy of the Medal itself.

And so, for our final project in my intensive picture book course this semester, we are putting the books we’ve looked at through the Caldecott paces. From the 80 titles we’ve looked at the students have nominated 12 for our Mock Caldecott (stipulating that all are eligible, regardless of date or place of publication, or nationality of creator). It is fascinating too see which titles stand out in a Caldecotty sort of way, and which have announced to us their qualities in that respect. Here they are:

  • Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, illustrated by Quentin Blake, written by Michael Rosen
  • Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, by Peter Brown
  • Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me, illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Daniel Beaty
  • Locomotive, by Brian Floca
  • The Great Bear, illustrated by Armin Greder, written by Libby Gleeson
  • Wild, by Emily Hughes
  • Flora and the Flamingo, by Molly Idle
  • This Moose Belongs to Me, by Oliver Jeffers
  • Waiting for the Biblioburro, illustrated by John Parra, written by Monica Brown
  • Here Comes the Garbage Barge, by Red Nose Studio
  • John, Paul, George and Ben, by Lane Smith
  • And Then it’s Spring, illustrated by Erin Stead, written by Julie Fogliano

michael rosen's sad bookmr tiger goes wildknock knocklocomotivegreat bearwildflora and the flamingothis moose belongs to mewaiting for the biblioburrohere comes the garbage bargejohn paul george and benand then it's spring

Mock CaldeNott Results!

This time of year we enjoy handicapping the big children’s and young adult book awards as much as the next literature center. But rather than trying to anticipate the 2014 committees, we decided to go a different way in our own engagement with the process. We used the Caldecott lens to examine some outstanding examples of picture book making from around the world. Yesterday evening a hale and inquisitive group of 22 gathered in the Butler Center to consider extraordinary picture books ineligible for the actual Caldecott Medal due to their international provenance. We pulled out the official Caldecott terms and criteria (leaving behind the bits about the illustrator being American and the book being first published in America) and focused them on a butler’s dozen (that’s 13) of terrific ineligible picture books. It was stimulating and edifying, and, as is always the case with Butler Center book discussions, a real blast. In the end we chose one winner and one honor book. Look at us!

jane the fox and meFor our winner we selected Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Groundwood Books). A young girl, bullied and friendless, finds strength and comfort in the pages of a favorite novel, buoyed by its familiar message and strengthened enough, eventually, to trust someone and take a chance. We were especially taken with Arsenault’s sophisticated use of color to paint an emotional landscape; the distinct styles she used to differentiate the adolescent world of the protagonist and the imaginary world of Jane Eyre into which she retreats; and the illustrations’ almost childlike essence that really enhanced the raw vulnerability of the first-person voice.

my father's arms are a boatOur honor book is My Father’s Arms Are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde, illustrated by Øyvind Torseter (Enchanted Lion Books). A boy who recently lost his mother steps into the night with his father to process grief, look for comfort, and reconnect with the world that still holds possibility. Here we appreciated the untethered compositions, expressing the amorphous, rudderless nature of grief; the gradual relief that comes with the return of regular boundaries; and the expression of life’s fragility in the delicate three-dimensional paper-work dioramas.

But this was no easy choice. The debate was spirited, intense, and full of insight. And just look at the other distinguished titles we had on the table!:

The Line by Paula Bossio (Kids Can Press)

The Bear’s Song by Benjamin Chaud (Chronicle Books)

A Little Book of Sloth by Lucy Cooke (Margaret K. McElderry Books)

Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon (Roaring Brook Press)

Opposites by Xavier Deneux (Chronicle Books)

Here I Am by Patti Kim, illustrated by Sonya Sanchez (Capstone)

The Big Wet Balloon by Liniers (Toon Books)

The Tiny King by Taro Miura (Candlewick Press)

Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski (Big Picture Press)

The Voyage by Veronica Salinas, illustrated by Camilla Engman (Groundwood Books)

Nasreddine by Odile Weulersse, illustrated by Rbecca Dautremer (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)

It was a lot of fun. You should try it.