From Bawk & Roll:
The lights went down.
The curtains went up.
The barnyard went wild.
YES. Have I gushed about a picture book recently? Let me check. Nah, not really. Well get ready, because I am ready to talk about Dan Santat.
And Tammi Sauer. I am also a big fan of Tammi Sauer. But frankly, I know more about art than about writing, so we will be mostly gushing over Dan Santat today.
Elvis Poultry, the stoic yet soulful rooster superstar that readers first met in Chicken Dance, is out on tour, and this time he's taking those starstruck chicks Marge and Lola with him as backup dancers. But when Elvis strikes his opening pose, on one knee with his cape spread wide, Marge and Lola take one look at the size of the crowd - and faint dead away.
Here are some of the pleasures of this picture book:
Perspective. Dan Santat has a real gift for finding the funniest angle on a scene. Whether it's an over-the-shoulder shot that gives us Marge and Lola's worried faces in the foreground while oblivious Elvis gets a massage; or a fan's-eye view that captures the glitz of the stage show, the way that Dan plays with point of view adds dimension and depth.
Frontality. On the other hand, Santat has a graphic designer's flair for 2-D composition. Some of the most charming visual asides in this book and in books like Oh No!: Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World are magazine covers, newspapers, posters and signs. Check out the album covers he designed as author photos.
(If I didn't already adore Tammi Sauer for her work, which includes the super-darling Mostly Monsterly, which I called the good picture book about accepting our differences, I would know we are soulmates just from her music choices: for Chicken Dance she strapped on the bangles for "Chicks Just Want to Have Fun" and for this book she's posing against a brick wall for her album "Desperately Seeking Librarian." How old is Tammi Sauer? Judging from her fallback musical references, I am guessing she is about my age.)
Then there's the interplay between text and art. To emphasize the dramatic understatement of the line "The chickens crossed the road," Santat gives us a low perspective of the chickens marching across the fathomless wine-dark road, their bodies silhouetted by moonlight. This heroic treatment makes the line That. Much. Funnier.
Dan does a brilliant job of packing lots of visual information into each illustration, often in minimal or sneaky ways. When Marge and Lola keep fainting, all we see is Elvis Poultry's startled expression and two pairs of chicken feet. While they are stressing backstage, the curtain is open a crack so that we see dairy cows in rows up to the rafters. "This doesn't look good," said Lola. "I completely disagree," says the librarian.
I think it looks fantastic.