The Awards

Nope, not the Golden Globes or the Emmys. I’m thinking about the ALA awards, of course.

This year, for the first time, I participated in a local mock-caldecott group. Though I was only able to attend a couple of the meetings, it was a great experience, and one I hope to continue to participate in for years to come. The group’s organizer gathered materials from the Caldecott Committee handbook to help us understand how the librarians who choose the winners review the many, many candidates. Because this award is for the artwork, and because it requires the art to be ‘distinctive’ and to add to the story beyond what the words reveal, we followed the Committee’s methods for looking at the art both on its own and in conjunction with the text. First we ‘read the pictures’ (covering or ignoring the words), then we paged through backwards, examining each spread, as well as end papers, and front and back cover. Then we read the story aloud, and finally we paged through the whole book again.

This process really opened my eyes to the myriad ways in which the images expand the story. By examining the images without reading the words, I was more able to tune in to the artist’s choices and sometimes the reasons those choices were made. Some books literally have additional subplots, inside jokes, or punchlines that exist only in the images. Others use color, texture, energy of line, page design, page turns, and rhythm to expand upon — or sometimes contradict — the words in the text.

I found myself daunted by the genius of many illustrators, and surprised that some books I’d seen as ‘simple’ were actually the result of many subtle but brilliant design decisions. Even more interesting: a few books seduced me at first glance through their sheer beauty, but fell apart when it came to enhancing the text. I work pretty instinctively, and I hope that by exposing myself to, and closely studying the work of some of the great illustrators out there, I will grow in my own ability to illustrate beyond the text and create books that are greater as a whole than as a sum of their parts.

The big winner, Locomotive, was not reviewed by our group, though I am  not sure how we overlooked it! Perhaps we paid less attention to nonfiction than we should have. I have been a fan of Brian Floca’s since I was a few classes behind him at Brown and he had a great little comic strip in our campus newspaper. Even back then, at 19 or 20, he was clearly a master draftsman. I was in a class with him in the illustration department at RISD, but he probably wouldn’t remember me because I was too shy back then to say hello. Anyway, I love his books and am off to add Locomotive to my collection. Hope my favorite local bookstore (Greenbean Books on Alberta Street — don’t miss it if you’re in Portland!) still has a copy!

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