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The Study of Poetry and Literature for Children & Young Adults

Picture Book

A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal by Leonard S. Marcus
 
The Garden of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburg
 
My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohman
 
The Harmonica by Tony Johnston

 Marcus, Leonard S. 1998. A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal. New York: Walker and Company. ISBN 0-8027-8656-1.

 

A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal is an amazing window into the work, patience, talent and commitment that goes into the creation of a truly outstanding picture book. Through excellent writing, Marcus allows to get to know the artists, making them seem more like friendly slightly eccentric neighbors than famous authors and artists. The illustrations show the progress of the artists as they fine tune their craft for the finished copy.

 In the introduction, Leonard Marcus explains the history of the Caldecott Medal and then highlights six wonderful winners, one from each decade the medal has been given out. The choices are intriguing to study as they not only reflect the history of the medal but also the history of the United States. As the culture of the United States evolved over the past sixty years, it is logical to assume that published works would also. The best part of this book, I believe is the personalization of the six authors. They become very human as you read about their endeavors to create wonderful books.

An example of the US culture is in Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. This book is the recipient of the 1942 award. Beautifully illustrated, Make Way for Ducklings was a reassurance of the importance of family and a safe home during WWII. The details provided are a testament to the loving commitment McCloskey put into his book. I enjoyed the following quote, “Still not satisfied, he bought some live ducks at the city market to serve as models. Sixteen ducks eventually came to live with him.” To live with ducks indoors would truly take a committed artist.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is featured as the 1964 winner, readers smile when learning that at one point Sendak was so disappointed with his manuscript that he wrote "ABANDON !!!!! Dreadful Story!!!” at the bottom of the page. But four days late Sendak had revised it again. Marcus states that “Sendak has compared making a book with making soup with many different ingredients that mix together in different ways.” A child (or an adult) reading that quote would be able to instantly identify with the mixture and know that something good will come of determined work.

Marcus features Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg, winner of the 1982 medal. The artist comes alive (and so does his wife) to the reader when he is quoted, “…I couldn’t find pictures of monkeys in the exact poses I had chosen for my illustration. So I asked my wife to pose, and quickly drew her.” Readers learn that using imagination, combined with the subjects available can make for a very creative book.

A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal, though too advanced for early readers, would be an excellent choice for teachers or librarians with classes creating their own books. It would be a fantastic selection for beginning adult readers. Not only will they learn about the artists and the creation of the books but will gain knowledge of the variety of books available that they can choose from. Thus opening a world of children's literature they can share with their young ones.(Complete Caldecott list in back of book) This book encourages the reader to discover and share the rest of the Caldecott books.

 

References:

Burns, Mary M., 1998. A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal. (book review). The Horn Book. December 1998, p. 756.

Marcus, Leonard S. 1998. A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal. New York: Walker and Company. ISBN 0-8027-8656-1.

 

Phelan, Carolyn. 1998. A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal. (book review). Booklist. November 15, 1998. p. 588.

 

 Scotto, Barbara. 1998. AA Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal. (book review). School Library Journal. December 1998. p.140.

 

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Van Allsburg, Chris. 1979. The Garden of Abdul Gaszai. New York: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-27804-X.

 

The Garden of Abdul Gaszai by Chris Van Allsburg is a magical book. The story of a sturdy, well behaved little boy named Alan Mitz is tasked to dog sit a rascal of a dog named Fritz. After patiently watching Fritz for Miss Hester all afternoon, he takes Fritz for a walk whereupon Fritz promptly runs off. Alan steadfastly tracks Fritz to the home of Abdul Gasazi, a magician. Abdul Gasazi’s property is posted with signs bellowing his dislike for dogs. When Alan politely asks for the return of Fritz, he is shown an ill mannered duck which Gasazi says is now Fritz. This, Alan is informed, is the fate of all dogs that trespass on Abdul Gasazi’s property. The duck flies off with Alan’s hat, and Alan journeys back to Miss Hester’s to confess to losing her beloved Fritz. 

The illustrations are stunningly realistic pencil drawings of shades of gray. In each double page spread, the detailed drawing is the complete right side page. So precise and authentic, the illustrations encourage the reader to figuratively step into Alan’s beleaguered little shoes. When Miss Hester’s dog Fritz comes out of the kitchen, she explains to Alan that the magician must have played a trick on him, it is easy to breathe a sigh of relief. Then turn the page, in the last illustration, Fritz trots up on the porch with Alan’s hat—the one the ill tempered duck flew off with. This book is a perfect choice for independent young readers, easy to follow with a little mystery and intrigue.

 

References:

Singer, Marilyn, R.  1980. The Garden of Abdul Gaszai. (book review). School Library Journal. January 1980, p. 63.

 

Van Allsburg, Chris. 1979. The Garden of Abdul Gaszai. New York: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-27804-X.

 

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Rohmann, Eric. 2002. My Friend Rabbit. Brookfield, CN: Roaring Brook Press. ISBN: 0-7613-2420-8.

 

Eric Rohmann’s 2003 Caldecott winner, My Friend Rabbit is a simple story of friendship and adventure. The book is illustrated in bold relief prints which beautifully convey the story as many of the pages are without text.

Mouse, the narrator of the story, is a patient friend of Rabbit’s. He realizes (and accepts) that “…wherever Rabbit goes, whatever he does, trouble follows.” The book is the attempt to retrieve Mouse’s airplane from a tall tree after Rabbit launches it into the uppermost branches.

Rabbit resolves to retrieve the airplane by assembling a “Bremen Town Musicians” type pyramid with everything from an elephant to an alligator to a duck. Of course, the pyramid tumbles but in the process the plane comes loose sending the friends on another adventure.

Small children will enjoy identifying the various animals and creating noises and verses for them. The illustrations communicate a range of animal temperaments ranging from perplexed as the building begins to not very pleased when they tumble. It is a story of friendship, trust and mishaps that all work out in the end.

The story is simplistic and fun, the illustrations vibrant and bold but the book did not catch or hold my interest. Recommended for very young toddlers that would be attracted to the expressive animals and bright colors.

 

References:

Decker, Charlotte.  2002. My Friend Rabbit.  (book review). Library Talk. November/December 2002, p. 37.

 

Rohmann, Eric. 2002. My Friend Rabbit. Brookfield, CN: Roaring Brook Press. ISBN: 0-7613-2420-8.

 

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Johnston, Tony. 2004. The Harmonica. Ill. by Ron Mazellan. Massachusetts: Charlesbridge. ISBN 1-57091-547-4.

 

The Harmonica is a heart wrenching story of a gentle Jewish boy in Poland during World War II. Torn from his home and loving parents and thrown in a concentration camp, the boy plays Schubert on his harmonica to “keep from losing hope.” The music comforts him when one night he wakes with the certainty that his parents are dead.

The camp commandant hears of his musical talent and orders the boy to play Schubert. The boy does, knowing that he would be killed if he does not play well. The “skin and bones boy” plays for the commandant nightly, the hate growing inside him for bringing pleasure to one so evil and for eating the bread he receives for playing.

Salvation comes in the cold darkness of the night when a fellow prisoner blesses him for playing Schubert. The lonely boy realizes that his music reaches the prisoners ears and brings them hope. He then plays joyfully not for the commandant in front of him but for his parents and the prisoners.

The text is simple and beautiful, it sounds if it were spoken by a sensitive boy of about eleven or twelve years of age. The illustrations are done in mixed media and reflect the changing emotions of the story as they drift from warm tones in their simple Polish home to icy cold as he plays for the commandant back to warm again as he realizes for whom he plays.

The Harmonica is inspired by Henryk Rosmaryn, who grew up in Poland and was placed in the Dyhernfurth concentration camp. The harmonica that his father taught him to play helped him to survive the hardships.

Though this is a beautifully illustrated and written picture book, the theme of war and the death of his parents precludes it from being for the very young. A basic knowledge of WWII and the concentration camps is necessary. The beauty of music transcending evil is a very powerful message.

 

References:

Johnston, Tony. 2004. The Harmonica. Ill. by Ron Mazellan. Massachusetts: Charlesbridge. ISBN 1-57091-547-4.

 

Reidel, Chris. 2004. The Harmonica. (book review) School Library Journal. May 2004. p.116

 

Stephens, Becky B. 2004. The Harmonica. (book review) Library Media Connection. October, 2004. p. 59

 

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