osprey_archer: (books)
We owned a copy of Owl Moon when I was a child, and while I don't remember reading it much, I always loved the cover: a little girl and her father walking up a snowy hillside, silhouetted by the moon. It's a scene of absolute peace and joy and just looking at it gives me a feeling of contentment.

The story is very sweet, too: the little girl and her father are going out in the woods at night to go "owling," that is, looking for owls. Not to hunt them or anything, just to see them in the peaceful quiet darkness of the woods.

When you go owling
you don't need words
or warmth
or anything but hope.
That's what Pa says.
The kind of hope
that flies
on silent wings
under a shining
Owl Moon.
osprey_archer: (books)
The 1987 Caldecott winner, Hey, Al, is a weird book. Al, a janitor, lives in a tiny gray apartment with his talking dog Eddie, who complains that the apartment is too small. (This is why it's actually a good thing that dogs don't talk. Would we love them half as much if they did? I doubt it. They'd be just as annoying as people all of a sudden.)

IN ANY CASE, one day a giant bird shows up in Al's bathroom window all, "Hey, Al! Come away with me!" And Al and Eddie take the bird up on it and let the bird carry them away to a magical bird island, where they can bask the days away in pools of water, until they wake up to discover that they have BEGUN TO TURN INTO BIRDS.

So they fly back home and decide that the tiny apartment isn't so bad after all because at least it is not TURNING THEM INTO BIRDS. And then Al begins to paint the gray walls yellow. Happy end!

I feel there is a not-very-sub-subtext here about how you should be happy with what you have, even if what you have is a minuscule apartment that is way too small for your poor dog, because Things Could Be Worse. Although actually, on the scale of one to Things Being Worse, turning into a bird actually has some perks to recommend it - being able to fly, for instance! - especially if you would be a talking bird who lives on a paradisiacal island surrounded by giant flowers and bird friends.

Stay on the island and become a bird, Al! That's way cooler than adding a lick of yellow paint to your walls.
osprey_archer: (books)
Caldecott Monday! The Polar Express! We owned this book when I was a child, although it was only one of piles and piles of Christmas-themed picture books and not as bright or redolently red and green as some of the others, so I only read it occasionally.

I did quite like it, though - especially the description of the food on the train, "candies with nougat centers as white as snow" and "hot cocoa as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars." Gosh. That makes me want a cup of cocoa right now, never mind it's really too hot for it. In fact the whole train ride, the train slicing ghost-like through the dark woods at night, ever northward toward a city rimmed in lights...

As a child I also loved the bit about the bell that only rings as long as you believe in Santa - so magical - but I feel a bit more jaundiced about it now - the entire cultural obsession with teaching children to believe in Santa, and mourning it as a tragic end of innocence when they cease to believe, as inevitably they must? Is it kind of like getting a kid a pet so they will learn an Important Lesson about Death when it dies? Except in order to teach an Important Lesson about Disillusionment instead, and possibly an Important Lesson about Being Gullible if they keep believing long after the other children.

Possibly I'm just a curmudgeon.

I have never seen the movie version of this book. Should I remedy this? Or is the train ride north far less mystically beautiful in the movie than in my head?
osprey_archer: (books)
Caldecott Monday returns! This week we have a charming retelling of St. George and the Dragon, specifically the version of the story from Spenser’s The Faerie Queen, which involves more praying and less interventions by Father Christmas than the version that my fifth-grade class put on in my youth.

(I played St. George, “old England’s pride, a man of courage bold” - one of my lines from the play; I still remember quite a bit of it after all these years. I was phenomenal.)

But back to the book. I particularly like the intricate borders around the pages of text: illustrations of blackberries or columbines or other English flowers, interspersed with gnomes, fairies, peasants in bright clothing scything the wheat, etc.: all very much in the tradition of medieval illuminated manuscripts.

No snails fighting knights, though, which I think we can all agree is would have been a delightful addition. But perhaps there is one in there and I just missed it? I don’t have quite the attention span for perusing illustrations that I did when I was a eight-year-old; at that age, I would have very much enjoyed sitting with this book for hours looking over the illustrations, and there’s quite enough detail here to reward it.
osprey_archer: (books)
I had never heard of Louis Bleriot before I read the 1984 Caldecott Medal winner, The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot, which is about, well, what it says on the tin: the Frenchman who designed and flew the plane which was the first to fly across the English channel. (He was apparently mobbed by ecstatic Englishmen when he landed, much as Charles Lindberg was mobbed by ecstatic Frenchmen after crossing the Atlantic solo. People got really, really excited about planes by then.)

Anyway, it's a charming book. Louis Bleriot made at least a dozen prototypes before he finally put together the plane that withstood the channel test, and a couple of the early ones either never got off the ground or ignominiously crashed within seconds of liftoff, and he just keeps picking himself up, dusting himself off, and designing another one despite the broken ribs. When he crossed the channel, he was walking on crutches from an earlier plane crash injury. Now that's commitment!

Seriously though, he doesn't seem to have realized that it's important to be able to land the plane as well as get it in the air. Oh Bleriot.

The illustrations remind me of the ones in The Ox Cart Man - there's a similar purposeful stylized flatness to them; or I'm not sure flatness is the right word - but they both ignore classical perspective in favor of what one might call emotional perspective, where the relative sizes of things are decided in part by their importance.

The pictures also have lovely soft watercolor backgrounds - particularly good for rendering sky and water, which is after all what you want in a book about flying over the English channel.
osprey_archer: (books)
On its nightly path
it often gets bumped,
gets torn,
trips again and again,
and each time
sprawls its full length on the ground.
But it does not cry out,
it has no voice.


An excerpt from Marcia Brown's Shadow, the 1983 Caldecott winner, and probably the creepiest Caldecott winner to date. The illustrations are great swathes of black with intense gem-like colors, beautiful and frightening. And that poor shadow! Bumped, torn, falling, sprawling, and unable to cry out, because it has no voice.

It also has no eyes and no hunger. And yet it creeps everywhere:

For as soon as the sun comes up,
here are the shadow people,
breaking loose, unwinding,
stretching, stirring,
branching out, teeming,
like snakes, scorpions,
and worms.


Meep!
osprey_archer: (art)
The Caldecott winner of the week is Chris Van Allsburg's Jumanji! Which is not my favorite Van Allsburg book, but it's not like there are bad Chris Van Allsburg books, so. I love his super detailed pencil illustrations: they're not photorealistic, but they nonetheless remind me of well-done black and white photographs in their drama and contrast.

The book Jumanji is much simpler than the movie: two children, Peter and Judy, find the game Jumanji sitting beneath a tree in the park. They take it home and begin to play - only for a lion to appear when Peter takes his first roll! But now that the die is cast, the only thing to do is to play the game all the way through to the end, through monsoons, volcanoes, hungry monkeys, etc.

Fortunately, when the game ends all the animals and weather events do too, as well as the damage they've caused. Thank goodness. And then - having played this terrifying game - what do the children do? Throw it in the trash? Burn it? Dig a deep hole in the backyard and bury it where it can never hurt anyone ever again?

But of course not! They take it back to the park where they found it, and the book ends with them watching another pair of children running off with it. The cycle must continue.

***

We had a number of Chris Van Allsburg books when I was growing up - The Wreck of the Zephyr (about a flying boat), Just a Dream (an environmentalist fable), and The Polar Express (which was my least favorite; naturally it's the most popular) - but my very favorite was The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, which is a series of unrelated illustrations, each accompanied by a single-line caption. The conceit is that these are the drawings of one Harris Burdick, who left them in Van Allsburg's hands with the promise to return with the stories accompanying them - only he never did, and now Van Allsburg is publishing them in the hopes that you, dear reader, might be inspired to tell their stories.

I did indeed find them very inspiring, although the story I eventually wrote does not, alas, quite fit the illustration that inspired it - a nun in a flying chair - I took the flying chair bit and ran with it. Six chairs took to the skies as a result of a science experiment gone wrong in Biology 101, and one landed in a swamp, where the devil took possession, and our intrepid heroine Monika had to do battle for it. (She won it with Thin Mints in the end.)
osprey_archer: (books)
Arnold Lobel is most famous for his Frog & Toad books (shout out to my fellow Frog & Toad fans!), but Fables is the one that he won the Caldecott Award for in 1981. It's fun! I thought it might be just a retelling of Aesop's fables, but actually Lobel has invented new fables of his own, which I rather enjoyed. I think my favorite is about the cat who spent a whole day fishing without catching anything, progressively moderating his dreams of a giant fish dinner with lemon juice and butter sauce down to a tiny little guppy with just a driblet of lemon - only to catch a gigantic fish just when he was about to give up.

The moral? "All's well that ends with a good meal." Hard to argue with that!

Some of the morals are more serious than that ("A child's conduct will reflect the ways of his parents") and some of it I'm not quite sure I agree with - "When one is a social failure, the reasons are as clear as day" - because I think that is the sort of thing that is only clear to everyone else. Of course the Crane doesn't want to invite the Pelican back to tea after the Pelican spilled the sugar and the cream and gobbled up all the cookies, but just as clearly the Pelican has no idea that this is why, as he sighs, "I seem to have no friends at all." Oh Pelican. Maybe you should have at least offered to help clean up your spills.

The illustrations are charming - very Lobelian, for lack of a better term. There's one story with frogs where the frogs do indeed look very much like Frog of Frog and Toad, which as you can imagine makes it rather alarming when the silly frogs get eaten at the end. ("The highest hopes may lead to the greatest disappointments." I guess there's nothing as disappointing as getting eaten by a snake.)
osprey_archer: (books)
This week's Caldecott book is The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, which is about a girl who, well, she loves horses. She loves watching over her tribe's horses; and one day, when a thunderstorm frightens the horses, the girl is caught up in the stampede and they all run away together until they come to a herd of wild horses - led by a noble and valiant stallion - which takes them in.

I have clearly spent way too much time in the general vicinity of shifter romances, because I can't shake the reading that the girl is a horse shifter who has at last found her horse mate in the noble stallion. He's unwilling to let her go when her own people come for her - and in fact she doesn't seem too thrilled at the idea of going back with them either: they only catch her when she falls off her horse. Clearly not running to them with open arms.

And then later the girl disappears entirely, and a new beautiful mare shows up in the herd. Clearly she's finally mastered the art of turning into a horse for good!
osprey_archer: (books)
Alas, alas - my library did not get me the next Caldecott book in time for my Monday read! WHATEVER SHALL I DO?

Well, fortuitously, next week's book is one that I already own and love and have in fact posted about before: Ox-Cart Man, written by Donald Hall and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. You might think that I would have run out of things to say about it in that previous post, but you would be WRONG - and yet again fortuitously, I didn't write much about the artwork in my earlier post.

Barbara Cooney was probably my favorite illustrator as a child; I also liked Patricia Polacco and Jan Brett, but Cooney was the one who illustrated books about the Power of Imagination (although, fair warning, Ox-Cart Man is not even slightly about the Power of Imagination) which was basically the theme of my soul when I was five.

I like the stories she tells/chooses to illustrate, and I also like her style. There's a certain Grandma-Moses-ishness about it in this book - the detail, the rolling landscapes, the neglect of mathematical perspective in favor of what one might call emotional perspective (maybe you can't see quite this many hills at one time, but you can feel the hilliness all around you) - although her figures seem more supple than Grandma Moses's to me - more like real people and less like wooden dolls in a carved barnyard scene.

There's a particular illustration of the Ox-Cart Man walking home after taking all his goods to market, a new iron kettle over his shoulder and money in his pocket - walking down the dusky path past the vast vista of the darkening hills, a small village with lit windows, the sky deep red with sunset, up the hills to his own house. The promise of coziness is so strong.
osprey_archer: (books)
We've reached another Caldecott book that I'm familiar with from childhood! (And in fact we'll run into quite a few of them for the next twenty years of Caldecott books or so.) My parents actually owned Peter Spier's Noah's Ark, so I was quite familiar with it, although I must say it never was a favorite: the ark gets awfully dirty from having so many animals in it, which is only reasonable, but I thought all the piles of dung were gross.

I also found the Noah's ark story itself a bit upsetting - particularly the bit at the beginning where alllll the animals are gathering around the ark, but Noah's only letting them on two by two so you've got, say, a bunch of elephants standing around, dolefully waiting to drown. Why do the elephants deserve to drown because humans were horrible? It seems so unfair.

It occurs to me, rather gloomily, that at this point we might see the Noah's ark story as something like a prophecy: the elephants etc. still don't deserve to suffer, but human activity is slowly killing them off anyway - not with a literal flood, but from poachers servicing the rising tide of human greed. It is often the innocents who suffer most.

This is rather gloomy, especially considering the book itself is about as cheery as a retelling of Noah's ark can be. There are all sorts of fun animal vignettes (the elephant who doesn't fit out of the ark; the flood of rabbits coming out, because the two beginning rabbits have bred a four score and seven baby bunnies), all of which is very cute.
osprey_archer: (books)
I really enjoyed this week's Caldecott winner, Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions. This is perhaps a bit surprising, given that it's illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, who illustrated Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears, about which I felt rather lukewarm - but the Dillons contain multitudes, it seems, and I really like the art style they chose for this books. The pictures have something of the feeling of stained glass: rich colors, strongly outlined figures, and each picture a vignette that tells an entire story in itself.

The style is well-suited to the alphabet book format: each page is devoted to an ethnic group in Africa with a name starting with that letter of the alphabet, and has a paragraph about some interesting custom that group has. ("The Fanti offer their guests white bubbly palm wine that has a clean fresh smell...Before drinking, a person pours a little wine on the ground and says, 'Come drink with us.' This is called 'pouring the libation,' and it is done to honor the ancestors.")

It seems like a charming way to introduce children to the diversity of peoples on the African continent - clearly a public service when movies still use "Africa" as a location tag. And the pictures are beautifully detailed; I can imagine a child paging through it slowly, spinning stories from the pictures as she goes.
osprey_archer: (books)
At last the library got me a copy of the 2017 Caldecott Medal Winner! Javaka Steptoe's Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, a charming book about, well, what it says on the tin. The illustration style is unique & intriguing: Steptoe paints on boards, so each part of the picture is on its own board and they're all fitted together so you can see the joins between them, which I've never seen before in quite this way.

I also enjoyed getting to know a bit more about Basquiat, who I had heard of but only in passing. Although I was a bit puzzled by this bit in the author's note, where Steptoe is describing a painting that inspired Basquiat: "Some people think that Guernica shows the suffering people and animals when warplanes bombed the village of Guernica, Spain, during the Spanish Civil War."

Are there some people who don't think that? I thought this was universally acknowledged.

Radiant Child also won the 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, and while it's a nice book, I'm not sure it's "two of the most prestigious awards in children's literature" nice - and not just because it's so darn hard to fit both the Caldecott and Coretta Scott King stickers on the spine of the book when you're processing it for the library.

Well, maybe a lot because of that. I had to cover half the title. But it does seem like the awards committees might have conspired to share the award wealth a bit more.
osprey_archer: (books)
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears suffers a bit from coming a week after Arrow to the Sun, which had such gorgeous illustrations that almost everything would look a bit flat by comparison; the colors in Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears are more muted, and very nice in their way, but they don't cater to my preference for the eye-searing.

Also, the story made me feel kind of bad for the mosquito in the end. This is probably the first and only time in my life I have ever felt bad for a mosquito. But in the story, the mosquito accidentally kicks off a chain of events that ends with the owl refusing to call the sun to rise, and the council of animals traces this back to the mosquito and then they all chant "Punish the mosquito! Punish the mosquito!"

And now the mosquito goes around buzzing "Zeee! Is everyone still angry at me?" in people's ears, and how can I not feel bad for the mosquito after that?
osprey_archer: (books)
Arrow to the Sun: A Pueblo Indian Tale has absolutely gorgeous pictures. It's all bright colored geometric shapes pieced together on black backgrounds, very striking and bright, the kind of book where the cover stops you halfway across the library because it's so eye-catching.

I know nothing about Pueblo Indian mythology, so I have no idea how accurate it is about anything. But the pictures are A++.
osprey_archer: (books)
Harve and Margot Zemach's Duffy and the Devil, the 1974 Caldecott winner, is another totally charming book. Young Duffy is hired as a maid to help with the spinning and knitting - except, alas, she can't spin! But fortunately, as she is sitting in the attic weeping dolefully over the "whillygogs and whizamagees" of the spinning wheel she has taken apart in a vain attempt to figure out how it works, the devil shows up and offers to do her spinning for her.

It's a twist on the Rumpelstiltskin tale, basically, except that instead of saving our heroine from an impossible task, the Rumpelstiltskin figure is just enabling her laziness. And it totally pays off for Duffy, too: the master of the house is so enchanted by the stockings she's supposedly knitted that he marries her, and then she spends most of her days dancing in the green "wearing satin gowns, and the best of silks and satins, and red-heeled shoes from France...frolicking away the time while the corn was grinding."

It also has a twist on the classic Rumpelstiltskin tale that I really liked: once the contract is broken (the long-suffering housekeeper finds the Devil's name for Duffy) all the devil's knitting vanishes into ashes. "All my work!" Duffy cries, not missing a trick. "Gone up in smoke! I swear I'll never knit another thing again!"

Which neatly solves the awkward problem of how to explain her sudden loss of knitting ability.

There's a sort of moral anarchy to the book - Duffy does all sorts of things that characters are often punished for (lies about her knitting attainments, makes a deal with the devil, whiles away the time dancing rather than working), but she's basically a decent person nonetheless and it all comes right for her in the end.
osprey_archer: (books)
Arlene Mosel's The Funny Little Woman is a retelling of a Japanese folktale about a woman who chases a rice dumpling down a hole, only to follow it right into the realm of the oni, toothy monsters who make her into their cook. She loves cooking, so she sticks around for a while, but eventually she gets tired of cooking for oni all day and flees back to the surface, taking the oni's magic rice paddle with her.

I liked this book a lot. The illustrations are delicately beautiful: I particularly liked the golden weeping willow trees and the glowing green caves where the oni live. And I really enjoyed the story - there's something Alice in Wonderland about it, isn't there? I suspect that it's a case of convergent evolution in storytelling: different cultures come up with stories about going into holes in the ground and finding brave new worlds, because who doesn't suspect that holes in the ground might hide something rich and strange?

The funny little woman herself is a bit Alice-y in her ability to remain mostly unphased by the bizarreness that surrounds her. She stays with the oni for a while because why not, but when she starts to miss her little house up in the sunshine, it's see ya, oni.
osprey_archer: (books)
Today's Caldecott book: Nonny Hogrogian's One Fine Day. Which is about a fox! I like books about foxes.

***

On a completely different note, [livejournal.com profile] lycoris linked me to this glorious video of Jurassic Park, High Heels Edition, which has everyone in the original Jurassic Park trilogy click-click-clicking around in heels. EVERYONE. Just look at those little tiny heels on the baby velociraptors.

Also Ian Malcolm in knee-high red leather heels. ABSOLUTELY THE HEELS HE WOULD WEAR. ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES.
osprey_archer: (books)
I was hoping to get the 2017 Caldecott winner in time for this Monday, but alas, everyone else has put it on hold at the library too so I don't have it yet. But! I did read the 1971 winner, A Story, A Story, which I enjoyed very much. It's a retelling of an Anansi story - in this case, how Anansi got the Sky God to release his cache of stories down to earth so people could tell them - and it has lovely stylish illustrations with backgrounds that look like either woodcuts or batik.

Oftentimes there's no obvious correlation between award winners and historical events at the time, but occasionally you can spot the effects of wider social trends. Both the Caldecott and the Newbery Award committees suddenly discovered black people in the 1960s and 70s; I'm not sure if the Civil Rights movement made the committee more interested in these books, or if more of these books were available because the Civil Rights movement pushed publishers to start publishing them. Probably some combination of both.

In recent years there have been a couple of Newbery Honor books with some LGBT content (heavily implied rather than outright stated, but still) - The War That Saved My Life and Roller Girl. I suspect they may back off from that now that the political climate has changed, but I guess we'll see.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
I was curious to get to Sylvester and the Magic Pebble on the Caldecott list, because unlike many of the other older books, I've heard of it before: it was banned because some people objected the police, in a world of anthropomorphic animals, are drawn as pigs.

They are the most sympathetic and concerned pigs in the history of forever, though, you can just tell that if they could do anything to help Sylvester's parents find him (although alas they cannot; he has accidentally turned himself into a rock with the help of a magic pebble), they would totally be all over it. This seems like one of the sillier book-bannings in history.

In other news! Today the new Caldecott and Newbery winners were announced!!! The Newbery Winner is The Girl Who Drank the Moon, which appears to be about WITCHES and FORESTS and FRIENDSHIP - super excited about this! - and the Caldecott winner is Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, which excites me somewhat less but I daresay it will be interesting.

In past years I’ve also read all the Newbery Honor books, and I am considering adding the Caldecott Honor books this year too, although really at some point one simply has to step back and stop adding mandatory books to one’s reading list. So we’ll see.

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