The American Library Association Youth Media Awards were announced in January, and I’m slowly working my way through the winners and honorable mentions. The Randolph Caldecott Medal is awarded for the most distinguished American picture book for children. There was one winner and three honor books named this year.
I had actually included this title in a local newsletter article about train books, so I will let my earlier comments about the book stand on its own. For older readers, there is the incredibly detailed Locomotive by Brian Floca. Starting with the cover and continuing inside on more than one occasion the watercolor illustrations appear to burst from the page. The book follows the story of a family traveling by rail across the country from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California in 1869. You’ll find this title not with the picture books, but with nonfiction due to the detailed narration. Packed with information, Floca uses short sentences that mimic the steam engine, and his generous use of onomatopoeia means the pages are filled with banging, clanging, huffing, puffing, and chugging. The various jobs on board are distinguished from one another, and the mechanics of the train are outlined not only in the text but also in the back jacket where steam power is explained with words and pictures. Pay careful attention to the little details too, as each station and location are identified by name and small details such as the cowboy’s horse running away at the sound of the train might be missed on first glance.
Three Caldecott Honor Books also were named, with two out of the three Caldecott honorees this year being wordless and the third one is nearly wordless. Has it ever happened where all the honorees are wordless?
Author/Illustrator: Aaron Becker
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press,c2013.
Bored children have been escaping into other worlds for years, including Max in Where the Wild Things Are, Harold with his purple crayon, Alice and her looking-glass, and the siblings who visit Narnia through the wardrobe. The same applies to this unnamed young lady in Aaron Becker’s wordless picture book. With her dad on the computer, her mom on the phone, and her big sister on a handheld device, the girl draws a door on her bedroom wall with a red crayon and escapes into another world. The red crayon creations, including a boat, a hot air balloon, and a flying carpet, pop against the primarily blue, green, gray and yellow landscapes. The other part of the pictures that is unique is the purple bird that requires the girl’s help to escape its own cage. It is a story of imagination brought to life, and two kindred spirits finding each other at the end.
Personally, this is not my favorite honoree. On minimalistic white backgrounds bordered by pink flowers, a girl in a yellow bathing cap, pink swimsuit, and dark flippers tries to imitate the actions of a flamingo. Initially perturbed by the unwanted admiring copycat, the flamingo eventually extends a wing and they engage in a ballet that ends in a cannonball and a bow. While the fold out spread works for the double page cannonball spread, there are other pages with lifting flaps that I think instead would have worked better as a page turn. But you can definitely see the author’s background with Dreamworks, which is mentioned in the back jacket biography. The emotions are beautifully portrayed through the body language and slight changes in facial features for both the girl and the flamingo.
I talked in my Coretta Scott King post about authors and illustrators whose names have come up for awards again and again and again. David Wiesner is one of those people for the Caldecott. He has won the award three times (Tuesday, The Three Pigs and Flotsam) and this honor now makes three honors (Free Fall and Sector 7). Give someone else a turn already! But I do see the appeal and the reason for the ongoing admiration. This latest title appears to be partially influenced by Wiesner’s own cat, and the observations of the cat’s attitudes and movement show. There is disdain towards a handful of toys until Mr. Wuffles the cat stumbles across a tiny silver spaceship occupied by even smaller green spacemen. We can’t say the work is completely wordless, as the cat’s owner courts the cat with new toys at the beginning and end of the story, spacemen talk in geometric symbols and the ants they encounter communicate with tiny dots. But the thing that really caught my attention was how Weisner conveyed the sense of motion with the cat, especially on the penultimate page where we see multiple tails as it flicks back and forth in anticipation. It’s a technique that is repeated several times in the book, designating motion with the cat’s paws and head. The pictures are vibrant, colorful, oversized, and action packed as the aliens try to repair their broken ship and escape the cat with the help of their new ant friends. And those claws on the cat… Watch out! Give this to any cat owner, as they will be able to relate.