Whew! Glad to be done with the Newbery post! That award is so loaded, so hard to talk about without hurting someone's feelings. On to the Caldecott!
From Ice by Arthur Geisert
Why is it that, while Newbery conversations feel like minefields, Caldecott conversations feel like wildflower-strewn Alpine pastures? Is it because every artist whose work even gets mentioned in the same breath as the C-word is by definition inarguably talented? Is it because you get to look at pretty things while you're looking for examples, rather than getting paper cuts leafing through novels trying to find that passage where the author really nails it?
From Me... Jane by Patrick McDonnell
I think it's because it's a lot easier to put your finger on what you find worthy in a particular book's illustration program than it is to pinpoint what you like about a big piece of prose. You can say, "Marla Frazee is a wizard of the color black," or "The fat contour lines that Kevin Henkes uses make his shapes so accessible to little kids." And I think that unfortunately, Newbery conversations often switch around to what you didn't like about an author's characters or style.
From If You Lived Here by Giles Laroche
But I've spent some time cross-referencing the Cybils picture book finalists (fiction and nonfiction - on which panel I served this year) with the few Mock Caldecott lists that people dream up, along with all the illustrated things I've read this year, and I came up with a list of some books that I think are among the items the 2011 Caldecott Committee spent time talking about on their way to conferring one Medal and up to four Honors.
Don't take my word for it though (really, DON'T) - motor on over to your library and check out a huge batch of picture books so you can play along yourself! I'll be running down some of these books on the radio January 13 at about 9:40 am, on WYPR's Maryland Morning program. 88.1 on your FM dial in Baltimore, and online at www.wypr.org.
Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell
Jane Goodall's own childhood drawings and notebook pages adorn this intimate little picture book bio. The moment when you turn the page and she has grown up and gone to Africa and it's that famous picture of her greeting the baby chimpanzee with the back of her hand... well that took my breath away. This should be Patrick McDonnell's Caldecott. (Also for the tiny subtle look of shock on little Jane's face after she has hidden in the henhouse to observe where eggs come from. I would look shocked too.)
I cannot rave loudly enough about this sophisticated childhood memoir. Silhouettes and collage augment Ed Young's accomplished sketches and pastel drawings to tell his story of growing up in a large family in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Possibly the art in this book is too Arty and not Illustrationy enough to win the Caldecott Medal.
Ed Young hasn't taken a trip to the podium since Seven Blind Mice won an Honor in 1993, and before that when Lon Po Po - one of the scariest items in the Folk and Fairy section - won the Medal in 1990. (And before then, when his illustrations for Jane Yolen's The Emperor and the Kite won an Honor. In 1968. Talk about a dream team!) I thought he might go up for Tsunami! or Wabi Sabi but I was wrong.
Ice by Arthur Geisert
Reviewed earlier. Fair warning though - this book put me in a pleasant speculative dreamlike state, and you know how my reviews get when that happens!
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
There is a current minor brouhaha brewing about whether this perfectly paced little sketch of a book promotes vigilantism among children. That makes me laugh so hard whenever I think of it.
Why are you asking me? I haven't seen a reactionary humorless mom reviewer on Amazon. I haven't seen any reactionary humorless mom reviewers anywhere. I would not eat a reactionary humorless mom reviewer. Don't ask me any more questions.
Neville by Norton Juster, art by G. Brian Karas
The "G" in "G. Brian Karas" is for "Great googly moogly, G. Brian Karas has finally been matched up with Just the Perfect Right Story." Although I quite liked his own On Earth a few years ago, this inventive inverted friendship tale is just the right match for his naive figures.
Around the World by Matt Phelan
Dreamlike true stories, pale pencils and watercolors, sensitive, nuanced expressions - is there an award for Most Excellent But Frankly More than a Bit Snoozy Illustrated Work for Children? Because this very fine graphic novel gets it.
I've singled out Around the World as a graphic novel that is probably being considered for the Caldecott, but I would like to point to the graphic novel finalists for the Cybils Award. Zita the Spacegirl, Sidekicks, Bad Island, and Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword are all outstanding graphic novels that deserve award recognition. I'm just not sure how much traction graphic novels are getting on the Caldecott.
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson
Two Honors for this master painter so far - will this be his Medal?
Never Forgotten by Patricia McKissack, illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon
Everyone involved with this book is a consummate creative mind at the top of his or her game. PLUS it's beautifully designed. AND the narrative thread is compelling. HOWEVER this is not necessarily something that a kid would gravitate to. Here endeth our lesson on the dilemma of the Big Awards.
Mary and Her Little Lamb by Will Moses
I have never understood the appeal of Will Moses. He's a self-taught painter, a fourth generation Moses (of the Grandma Moses-es), and while the guy has pretty good color sense and seems to love depicting his Vermont milieu, after three generations don't you think the Moses family might have had the bucks to send someone to art school? His perspectives are all wonkused, scale is a wreck, and none of his foreground objects or figures are connected to the ground. Plus every face is a cartoon, interior spaces are VAST, and there is no gradation in value to indicate distance. Is it still folk art if the artist is intentionally aping untutored technique?
Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins, illustrations by Vicky White
How is it that this team has not even won an Honor yet? Are they British or something? Let it be for this one. The fact that someone - some editor, or Martin Jenkins, or whomever - decided that they should get one of the finest animal artists working today to illustrate conservation-minded animal books for children gives you some idea of just how committed these people are to the next generation of our planet's stewards. Yes I just said that. I am a big damn hippie at heart - you wanna make something of it?
Stars by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Marla Frazee
If You Lived Here: Houses of the World by Giles Laroche
Giles Laroche lives in a big ancient barn in New England, surrounded by Exacto knives and architecture reference books. Woodland creatures visit him daily, bringing offerings of cottony paper and watercolor pigment. Eventually he should have a Caldecott plaque to hang on his splintered gray wooden wall, but will it be for this book? Mmmmaybe.
I think we may have a winner with this one. Melissa Sweet not only researched the living crap out of her subject - Tony Sarg, the puppetteer and inventor behind the upside-down marionettes that are the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons - but she found pertinent source materials to use in collages and she made a bunch of toys and puppets, inspired by Sarg's designs. AND THE ENDPAPERS are a book in and of themselves.
Best wishes to the talented individuals who brighten our year - every year - with their inspired illustrations for children. I can think of, oh, at least a dozen whose work I have for the moment overlooked, and every day I go to the New Picture Books shelf and spot half a dozen more. Thank you!