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Showing posts with label Illustrated Revolution. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Illustrated Revolution. Show all posts

6.10.2013

Forever Young (2008)

By Bob Dylan

Illustrated by Paul Rogers

Text set in Clarendon

Ink, acrylic, and Adobe Illustrator

Atheneum Books for Young Readers

I am very pleased to say that my son liked this one very much. I wasn't sure, since it seemed on first glance like it would have more appeal for older Dylan enthusiasts and completists. I like the song, "Forever Young," of course, but its not one of my favorite Dylan songs, probably not in my top 10... or even top 20. I like songs best that tell a story, or at least suggest a story, and for a story-lover, Bob Dylan is a treasure trove. "Forever Young," however, has always seemed to me more of a series of platitudes and well-wishes.

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young

It does not evoke within me a sense of place or time or character. So it's to Paul Rogers' credit that he was able to infuse the song with just these elements and create a story through his illustrations. Beginning with a wide-eyed youth gazing at Woody Guthrie sitting outside of Gerde's Folk City, "This Machine Kills Fascists" emblazoned on his guitar case, it follows him through adolecense, through Greenwich Village, the shows, festivals, the protests. Along the way, the backgrounds are littered with the likes of Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Pete Seeger, John Lennon, all those greats, and references to Dylan songs.

The illustrator's notes at the end give away most of the references, which may seem like cheating, but Arlo really enjoyed going back through the book afterward to see if he could pick out the hidden emblems. "Get some Dylan albums," he writes, "sit down, listen to the lyrics, look at the book, and see what you can find."






5.30.2013

Roland Humphrey is Wearing a WHAT? (2012)

Written by Eileen Kiernan-Johnson

Illustrated by Katrina Revenaugh

Cut paper

Huntley Rahara Press

I was happy to receive a complimentary copy of this book in the mail the other day, and I found it to be a fun little tale, lively written, and pretty cool cut paper illustrations which really bound with joy on every page.

It is the story about a boy who wears dresses - and tiaras, and sparkly butterflies - and his parents who try to encourage him, and these fiendish girls who constantly rag him about it. "Your sparkles are really starting to annoy. When you wear clothes for girls, how do we know you're a boy?"

It seemed to me clearly to be a book written for families dealing with this very issue themselves, and how to handle it, so that they know they are not alone. Though I thought the prose bounced along cleverly enough that I could see it having more widespread appeal, such as:

If girls can wear boy clothes, why not the reverse?
Do colors have meaning? Is purple inherently perverse?

All the colors are brought out and disected, some are boyish, some are girlish, the proper things that boys should be interested in and not interested in are listed in detail. The further and further it went, the less it seemed to me to be about one particular boy who just happens to like pretty, pretty things, but a good rumination in general on why it is that such things are so divided by gender. As the parent of a non-cross-dressing boy who loves trucks and fashions anythig into a gun, these issues do come up regardless.

Not surprisingly, the book was written about the author's own son. Looking her up, I found her blog which I felt was pretty interesting, and goes into more detail and emotional honesty than the upbeat ending of the book delivers: "We like you for you, whatever you wear."

After her son had decided that he wanted to start wearing boy clothes because of the comments of some of his classmates, Kiernan-Johnson writes: "I suppose it was inevitable that the weight of peer pressure would reach him at some point. I just imagined that it would be further down the road, that we’d have more time to inhabit our happy little bubble of authenticity, that he could obliviously be who he is without the burden of arbitrary societal dictates intruding on that.  It isn’t that I want my son to waltz through life in a ballgown; it is that I don’t want the world to crush his spirit and stamp out his unique way of being. I don’t want it to burst his bubble."

I don't think she has to worry about the world crushing his spirits just yet (that doesn't happen until you start working), but it did make going back reading the joyful exuberance of "Roland Humphrey" a bit bittersweet, and for me, more meaningful. 



2.23.2013

And Tango Makes Three (2005)



Illustrated by Henry Cole

Watercolor

Text set in Garamond


It was mating season at the Penguin habitat in the New York Central Zoo, love was in the air. Penguins began pairing off, including two especially loving, sweet penguins named Roy and Silo.

Yes, they were both dudes, but that’s not the controversial part.

When the other happy penguin couples found themselves in a family way and began spending their days and nights keeping their eggs warm, Roy and Silo – not to be outdone – found an egg-shaped rock upon which to sit. They took turns sitting on that lifeless rock, determined to keep it warm and safe. In their own way, they loved that little rock.

Then, in a fateful moment of inspiration – in an action which would have profound consequences throughout public schools and libraries the country over and serve as a lightning rod for free speech and civil rights issues – a clever zookeeper got the swell idea to substitute that egg-like rock for the real deal.

One day, the egg hatched, and a baby penguin pup was born. His name was Tango.

And Tango Makes Three was published in 2005, written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. It is the true account of the birth of Tango, and of the attempts made by Roy and Silo to raise the young penguin pup as their own, and of the acceptance this unlikely family finds in the zoo. It is an incredibly sweet story.

The first I’d heard of the book was thanks to my good friends at Wolfgang Books. Distinctly do I remember that Saturday morning, browsing about their second floor bookshop in Phoenixville, Pa, with Arlo and a cup of coffee, when I saw the display table of banned and challenged books which they had set up in honor of Banned Books Week.

Just the words, “Banned Books” hold a certain, sexy allure. On the table were the usual suspects: Huckleberry Finn, The Giver, Animal Farm, all wonderful titles which I’d of course read and loved. But there was one book which did not initially seem to belong, and it was that book to which I immediately gravitated.

There is absolutely nothing about the look of And Tango Makes Three which hints at anything approaching even slightly controversial content. The cover depicts two gender-neutral looking penguins cuddling with their tiny pup, looking about as snug as a bug in a rug as penguinly possible.  There is a golden sticker in the left hand corner showing that this book is a winner for the ASPCA Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award. On the back are glowing quotes from the likes of Maurice Sendak and John Lithgow. If it had been in any other section of the bookstore, I would have most likely barely given it a second glance, though – as I said – there is a certain undeniable allure to the banned book which I am powerless to resist.

Ten minutes later, I bought it, and was thus able to support not only gay rights, but also free speech and my local independent bookshop all with the same purchase.

Later that afternoon, with Arlo cuddled next to me on the couch at our home, I read it aloud.
“Every year at the very same time, the girl penguins start noticing the boy penguins,” I began. “And they boy penguins start noticing the girls…”
Arlo listened, enjoying the playful illustrations of Henry Cole very much, as the penguins swim together, walk together, sing together... They’re not exactly 100% anthropomorphic. I can tell Cole spent a long time studying actual penguins in order to get their look and their body language just right, but he does give them very expressive eyes and half-crescent eyebrows, a slight upturn of a smile superimposed upon their beaks. He does a great job of being simultaneously realistic and fanciful.

As the story moves towards its resolution, there is a loud CRAAAACK! after which which baby Tango emerges from his egg, to the delight of both Roy and Silo, and to the delight of all the schoolchildren who would come to the zoo forever after and celebrate the penguin family.

“At night the three penguins returned to their nest,” the book concludes. “There they snuggled together and, like all the other penguins in the penguin house, and all the other animals in the zoo, and all the families in the big city around them, they went to sleep.”

I shut the book and set it down.

Arlo silently absorbed what he’d just heard.

“So, what did you think?” I prodded. “Did you like it?”

“Yes,” he said cautiously. He had a bit of a disturbed look on his face. “Except, I didn’t like the part where there was no momma.”

“Oh.” I frowned. “Well… suppose it had been about two moms and there was no daddy? What would you think of it, then?”

In a moment, Arlo’s eyes twinkled, a wide grin spread across his entire face and he exclaimed, “Yeah! That would be great!”

2.19.2013

Unspoken (2012)

Illustrated by Henry Cole

Canson charcoal paper with Staedtler Mars 4B pencils

Adobe Garamond Pro Regular

Scholastic Press

This is a startlingly beautiful work. I can't quote any of it, because, as promised by the title, all is unspoken. The narrative relies only on the artwork to carry it along. The temptation is to flip through it quickly, but there is too much texture on each page. There's hardly any white space, practically every square centimeter is filled, even the cloudless sky, let alone the plentiful wood, brick and earth.

It seemed to me this book was as much about the setting and the environment as it was with the story. The first several pages consist of the young girl's life on the farm. Watching soldiers marching by, feeding the chickens, hanging quilts. I got a real sense of the passage of time, and the entirety of this young girl's existence.

When the story comes into play, it is with subtlety and mystery.

Do you see the eye in the corn?

That eye is all that is ever seen. Unspoken, indeed. There are layers of invisibility, just as the young girl herself, is practically invisible to the soldiers and bounty hunters come to her parent's home.

"Because I made only the pictures," writes Cole, "I'm hoping you will write the words and make this story your own."


6.11.2012

Which Side Are You On? (2011)


Retold by George Ella Lyon

Illustrated by Christopher Cardinale

Cinco Puntos Press

Phew, this one is great, great, great. A great book and an important book. This is only the second Cinco Puntos Press book I've reviewed (the other being the amazing Crossing the Bok Chitto), and I am extremely impressed. They know what's up.

My wife bought me a Pete Seeger album a couple of years ago, containing two CDs. The first had all of Pete's kid's songs and stories - Abiyoyo and the Foolish Frog and the like. But the second disc was filled with old union and labor songs. I'm happy to say, my 5-year old son Arlo took to the union songs just as well as the others, especially the rousing, "Solidarity Forever!"

One of the songs on the album was, of course, "Which Side Are You On?" and though I had no idea of the story behind the song, the tempo always strikes me when I listen to it. Most of are upbeat and filled with pride. They had to be. This one, however, feels mournful to me, creeping with dread.

"Come all you poor workers, good news to you I'll tell, of how the good old union has come in here to dwell."

It was written by Florence Reece in 1931, the wife of a coal miner and the mother of seven, and this story is told in the voice of one of those seven children, talking about her pa working in the mines, blasting and loading coal, putting food on the table, how they live in a coal company house on coal company land, and how their Pa gets paid in money that can only be redeemed at the coal company store.

"He says the company owns us sure as sunrise. That's why we've got to have a union. Pa says if miners get together and say what they want and refuse to dig coal till they get it our lives will get better," she tells us, adding, "They ain't better yet."

From there, the book takes a startling turn. Without explanation, the next page finds the children peeking out from under their bed while their mom hides behind a beam. Their pa is a union organizer and the thugs are after him. Should they call the sheriff? No. The sheriff is the man who hired the thugs in the first place. The book even calls him by name: Sheriff Blair, as does the song:

"If you go to Harlan County, there is no neutral there. You will either be a union man, or a thug for J.H. Blair."

Suddenly, a bullet zips through the wall, just as their mom yells out, "Any of you youngins got a pencil?" and so the song comes to be written.

"When the thugs finally quit shooting and we crawl out of hiding, we're sore and hungry, and our house is busted up, but Ma has written us a song."

I felt pretty swept up in the telling, but the author's note brought me down a bit, as she writes that there are "many accounts of how Florence Reece wrote the song and they won't all agree."

This version, however, comes only twice removed. A woman named Bev Futrell heard this version from Reece herself at her 85th birthday celebration. The story changes and grows, the song changes and grows. Verses have been added to the original song to reflect struggles through the years.




Here's the woman herself singing it.

And here's the group Rebel Diaz singing a version of it.

Please listen to both of these versions, in their entirety, one following the other, for an out-of-body experience.

3.09.2012

Crossing Bok Chitto (2006)

Written by Tim Tingle

Illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges

Cinco Puntos Press

There is a river called Bok Chitto that cuts through Mississippi. In the days before the War Between the States, in the days before the Trail of Tears, Bok Chitto was a boundary. On one side of the river lived the Choctaws, a nation of Indian people. On the other side lived the plantation owners and their slaves. If a slave escaped and made his way across Bok Chitto, the slave was free. The slave owner could not follow. That was the law.

This opening paragraph sets up the time period, the environment and the tone of this tale. This is a downbeat, yet elegant story and quite a contrast to Tingle's previous book which I had just discussed, When Turtle Grew Feathers. There's no jaunty talking animals this time, though there is a fantasy-device running through the narrative, the ability for African Americans to render themselves invisible.

"Son, son, it's about time you learned. There is a way to move amongst them where they won't even notice you. You move not too fast, not too slow, eyes to the ground, away you go!"

That's the father of Little Mo, giving his son advice on sneaking past the white plantation owners in order to help a young Choctaw girl named Martha Tom back across the river. This is a story about their friendship, and takes place over several years, as the two grow and age within their respective cultures, separated by the Bok Chitto.

Maybe the white people tell it best. They talk about the night their
forefathers witnessed seven black spirits, walking on the water
- to their freedom!
It struck me how I am used to reading stories of Native American befriending the whites, and stories of black slaves befriending the whites, and on and on with so-called "unlikely" friendships between a minority and a white. In this story, however, the whites are always the other, and are never humanized. They represent a common adversary for the Choctaw and the black slaves.

Jeanne Bridges' art is wonderful. We begin very naturally, very downbeat, figures cast very plainly, but with just a subtle variation in tone, and the artwork takes on mystical tones. The Choctaw women, dressed in long white robes, holding candles out before them under the full moon, seemingly gliding across the surface of the river. "When they reached the Choctaw side of the river, they blew the candles out and disappeared into the fog, never to be seen on the slave side again." I felt it, I felt all the mystery and the beauty and the elegant mysticism of it.

Really beautiful book trailer made by a fan


6.17.2011

I Want to be Free (2009)

Written by Joseph Slate

Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

Watercolor

Text set in ITC Cushing

G.P. Putnam's Sons

"This poem is a retelling of a story in the sacred literature of Buddha about his disciples, the Elephant Ananda, as related by Rudyard Kipling in his novel, Kim," writes Joseph Slate, though you'd hardly guess it from a glance. The setting is very far removed from the world of Kipling. This is a story of African slaves fleeing their plantation and escaping to freedom along the underground railroad.

For complete authenticity, the illustrator, E.B. Lewis, made the journey from Kentucky across the Ohio river. "I imagined the dark nights when lives quietly swept across to the other side," he writes. "I toured the Rankin House in Ripley, OH, for the first time and stood still for a while to reflect on the risky and humane actions that helped free slaves during those times."

That is not to suggest that everything about this book is based on fact. There are several more fantastical moments, beginning with the very first page.

Before I die, I want to be free.
But the Big Man says, "You belong to me."

And then we see the Big Man, rising before the young slaves like a specter, his face covered in shadow from his wide-brimmed hat. His enormity is exaggerated. Looking at him is like looking at an unscalable mountain.

But its a mountain the narrator attempts to scale nonetheless. In another few pages, he's off through the woods, finding a cave by nightfall where other slaves huddle and hide. These nighttime scenes are incredibly beautiful and atmospheric, using just a few different shades of green, lewis creates an entire world of lush vegetation, ragged clothing and nighttime starscapes.

Big Man has dogs. He has a gun.

The salves flee in the night. One small child who had lost his mother is about to be left behind.

"Oh no," says I. "We'll run to the wild! The Lord will help me care fort this child!"

For the rest of the story, we follow the two of them fleeing together, all the meanwhile, the iron is still clasped firmly around the leg of the man.

One day, my child looked close at the rung.
Said, "Papa, papa, what is that thing?"
I told him the story of that dark, dark day.
He touched the ring. It fell away.
Tears welled up. Fell down from my face.
I saw my child lit up by grace.
"How, dear child, did you set me free?"
"I'm from the Lord. You cared for me."

6.14.2011

Play Ball, Jackie! (2011)

Written by Stephen Krensky

Illustrated by Joe Morse

Millbrook Press

Oh, it's a strange thing, reading a book like this to my five year old son, to have it begin with the story of a father and his son going to a baseball game together. For me, I'm immediately digging the details Joe Morse adds in to make us feel like we're really back in the day - New York, 1947 - the clothes, the old trollies, the ads for Coca-Cola - I love stuff like that.

For Arlo, to be immediately taken in by the umpire with wild eyes and lips pulled back, "PLAY BALL!" with all the baseball players and their uniforms out their on the field, surrounded by some 25,000 fans, several dozen if whom are illustrated individually with rich details such that I'm certain any person in the know could pick out which neighborhood they were from. It's not homogeneous. It's frenetic with raised fists.

It's not until several pages in that the true story emerges, as Matty, a young boy, is told by his father how he came across the tickets to Opening Day.

"Free tickets," his father had told him. "One of the guys at work refused to go."

"Really?" said Matty. "He must be crazy."

"Not crazy. Disgusted."

"About what?"

Jackie Robinson. He's the center of the tale, though we see him only through the eyes of others - the enraged eyes of working class bigots, and the incredulous eyes of the open-minded and the innocent.

I think Arlo shares quite a bit in common with Matty, not understanding what the issue was, having to have it explained to him, spelled out. There's no question which side of the debate Matty's father is on.

"I don't care what color they are. Remember, your grandfather came to America from Italy. Lots of people didn't give him a chance either."

And it's a lesson Matty is able to put into practice during the 7th Inning Stretch, when he stands in line behind three kids, two white, one black.

"Just you wait," says the black boy. "Jackie will show you. There are plenty of good black players out there."

Matty returns with a hotdog and a "I'm for Jackie," button, a gift from the boy.

"We met these kids," Matty explains to his proud father. "They didn't think Jackie belonged on the team."

"And?"

"We straightened them out."

The rest of the narrative follows the game. Krensky takes great care to detail it as it happened, with the names of the players, the scores, the plays, and leading to Jackie scoring a run in, the Dodgers winning the game.

I loved the way Jackie was kept removed, not seeing his thoughts, bit only how the boy imagined Jackie must have felt. It served to keep his stature mythic, larger than life, while at the same time, keeping the story grounded and filled with real, genuine emotion. Not a biographical account or a history lesson, but history-as-mythology.

The book concludes with several photographs of the real Jackie Robinson and a brief biographical note written by the author which concludes with a quote from baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

Baseball's proudest moment and its most powerful social statement came on April 15, 1947, when Jackie Robinson first set foot on a Major League Baseball field.
.
Click here for more stories about Civil Rights!

6.13.2011

Donovan's Big Day (2011)

Written by Leslea Newman

Illustrated by Mike Dutton

Gouache with Digital Finish

Typeset in Advert and Franklin Gothic

Tricycle Press

As with many books dealing with same-sex relationships and marriage in recent years, the same-sex aspect of the story does not enter into the narrative in a significant way, but seems more a part of the backdrop. In fact, it is not until the final pages in which we learn that the marriage in question involves "mommy" and "mama."

This is a contrast with Newman's famous take on same-sex relationships in Heather Has Two Mommies - in which the question of gender was the source of some angst. Heather Has Two Mommies was a question. Donovan's Big Day is a celebration.

Every character appears to be heady with excitement and anticipation, not the least of which is Donovan himself, the young child of the two mothers, maneuvering his way through their busy world of grown-up responsibilities and wedding-day preparations, mentally cataloging his epic quest every step of the way in a series of bouncing run-on sentences:

He had to be the first one to hop off his seat, scramble out of the car, scurry up some steps, hurry through a large, sunlit lobby, and dash into a loud, crowded room full of hundreds of grown-ups all dressed up in their very best clothes and he had to say hello to every single one of them while they shook his hand, gave him a hug, kissed his cheek, and told him how very handsome he looked on this very BIG day.

The entire book is composed in this frenetic style, and I love phrases like, "hundreds of grown-ups," which gives the proceedings the feel that this is an alien terrain through which young Donovan - and all children, after a fashion - must journey. The ways of grown-ups are not his ways, and so it is imperative that he memorize and go through such a long list of responsibilities, in the pursuit of this, this happiest of all occasions, "when the tall grown-up in the long, black robe said, 'I now pronounce you wife and wife."

6.04.2011

The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights (2010)

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford

Illustrated by Tim Ladwig

Watercolor and pastel on Twinrocket tinted watercolor paper

Typeset in Adobe Garamond Pro

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

"Since the first African-American churches were founded in the 18th Century, black religious organizations have brought biblical values to bear on the freedom struggle," begins the book in a nice introductory note, explaining the pairing of the text of Matthew 5:3-12 - commonly referred to as the Beatitudes - with snapshot portraits of scenes from the history of Civil Rights.

We start in the darkened hold of a slave ship - one of the slaves sitting up straight - staring into a shaft of light beaming through the ceiling. "I am the Lord your God," begins the narrative. "I was with the Africans who were torn from the Motherland and cramped in holds of ships on the Middle Passage from Africa to the Americas. I heard the chant Kum ba ya, kum ba ya."

Running along the bottom of the two-page spread is the first of the beatitudes, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."

In direct contrast with the first image, the next is filled with light. A family claps their hands in a sun-drenched church:

I was with Richard Allen, Absalom Jones and James Varick, who founded churches where African Americans could praise the Lord and shout "Hallelujah!" I rang the church bells.

From there we move chronologically through American history. Harriet Tubman against a star-filled night. Marian Anderson standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Rosa Parks, poor Emmett Till.

I had to pause at the image of young Ruby Bridges, wide-eyed between the shoulders of the law - and in particular, the faces twisted in rage and hate filling the pages behind her which Ladwig very menacingly illustrates. "Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you."

Of all the historical names listed, Ruby Bridges was one of only two with a birth date and no death date. Somewhere, Ruby is 57 years old. The only other still living subject - born just seven years after Ruby Bridges - is Barack Obama.

I was with [him] when he took his oath as President of the United States. I was the Bible where he placed his hand.

From there, finally, we are transported back a hundred years or more, as a group of men, women and children wade into the waters, the sky orange with dawn. "The holy water is the stream of humanity," concludes Weatherford. "Drink, breathe and be free."

5.06.2011

The Taxing Case of the Cows: A True Story About Suffrage (2010)

Written by Iris Van Rynbach and Pegi Deitz Shea

Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully

Watercolor
Text set in Old Claude

Clarion Books

"Taxation without representation," is the key refrain in this interesting and resonant picture book.  The year is 1869 and we're in a fully realized Glastonbury, Connecticut, which was drawn upon by historical photographs.

The main characters are Abby and Julia Smith, two elderly sisters who have lived their entire lives in Glastonbury and still run the old family farm.  The first page is the two of them in their field on a sunny day, holding milking pails and surrounded by their many cows.

They are good citizens of their fair town because - as the text informs us - "They had always paid their fair share of taxes, which funded schools, roads and other services."  However, ill tidings were afoot.  Taxes were raised.  The good sisters Smith - being the single, female landowners that they were - were called upon to pay much more than anyone else, as a result of a vote in which they - being the single, female landowners that they were - were unable to participate!

Taxation without representation!

The sisters did not concede quietly.  They made their frustrations known in town meetings, standing in oxcarts in the town green, drawing parallels between their case and the American Revolution - chanting, "Taxation without representation!"

Then, in 1874, enter George Andrews, slimy tax collector.  In lieu of the sisters paying their taxes, he demands seven of their cows.  The cows would be auctioned off by the town, who would then keep the money as payment.

There are many great, lively illustrations detailing the passage of the cows, being led this way and that, all seven of them, large and struggling, "bellowing in protest," and "resisting every way possible."

Finally, on the day of the auction, the townsfolk - in solidarity with the sisters, refuse to bid on the cows.  The sisters easily buy them back for a song, and the town is forced to take the loss.

This charade apparently went on for several years in Glastonbury.  The cows were made to trudge back and forth between the auction grounds and the Smith farm, and every year the result was the same, all the meanwhile the sisters continued to argue from their ox-cart:

"Our town should act as a family, with people working together and taking care of each other rather than rulung over one another and denying the women a voice!"

Newspaper and magazines took up the story, and the situation drew national interest.  The sisters toured America, giving speeches and writing about women's rights until 1878, when Abby Smith died.

Julia died in 1886.

It wasn't until 1920 that Congress added the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote.

"The Smith sisters didn't live to see it, but they had played a part in making it happen... and so, of course, had their cows."

1.25.2011

This Land is Your Land (1998)

Written by Woody Guthrie

Tribute by Pete Seeger

Illustrated by Kathy Jakobsen

Oil on canvas

Little, Brown and Company

This is a beautiful book which should be on everyone's bookshelf, not just because of its cultural significance, but because its just beautiful to look at.

Maybe everyone knows the chorus and the first verse of the song- and they may even know that it was written by a guy named Woody Guthrie, but its a good bet that they don't know all six verses - which this book reproduces and illustrates, and that the verses become progressively more challenging as they go along, a song which begins as a pastoral appreciation of America's beauty becomes an indictment and a call to Freedom.

In an appreciation which comes at the end, Pete Seeger writes about hearing the song for the first time in 1949, "[...they] omitted some of the best verses.  Nowadays Arlo Guthrie and I and many others make sure to include them.  Because its important to remember that if the sign says, 'No Trespassing' on one side, on the other side 'it didn't say nothing."

I actually went to see Arlo Guthrie two months ago at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA - along with my wife and our son Arlo - and I can certainly verify that that is the case.

Kathy Jacobsen is an acclaimed folk artists whose paintings are in the permanent collection of the Museum of American Folk Art at the Smithsonian.  About the artwork, we read that it was, "Inspired by notch carvings found in traditional 'tramp art' - boxes, picture frames, and mirror frames crafted by tramps, hoboes, miners and lumberjacks in the early to mid- 1900's.'

Flipping through its pages, she paints many beautiful scenes of Americana - Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge, the deserts of Utah... and in each image, I found myself searching for Woody Where's-Waldo-style - wearing his checkered shirt, guitar slung on his back, a smile on his face.  But she doesn't shy from showing the dismal as well: soup kitchen lines, vandals, garbage.  It's for this reason I felt the book deserved inclusion in this index.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people;
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

1.12.2011

Boycott Blues (2008)



Illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Colored inks on clayboard

Text set in Adobe Caslon


I read through this book twice before seeing the author's note at the end in which she explains the origins of the term "Jim Crow." "For this story," Andrea Pinkney writes, "I have taken the liberty of depicting Jim Crow as a menacing bird to give characterization to segregation's ugly reality."

Wait a minute... had I missed something? Had I overlooked such stark symbolism? I flipped back to the beginning. Sure enough - on only the second illustration in - the words, "It was December 1, 1955, when the blues came to call - the same day Jim Crow flew in waving his bony wings," and her husband has unevenly sketched the White House with a bus puttering along before it, and above the White House is a large, menacing smudge which resembles an exploding storm cloud. And yes, if I stare at it long enough, Rorschach-style, it does seem the smudge contains a black beak, crazed wings, flapping curiously... If I blink, it reverts to just an inky mess, a black hole where the sun ought to be.

For the remainder of the pages, we see only its black tendrils about the outskirts of the images. It's there, hovering above the fateful bus that Rosa Parks boarded at the end of her workday.

Whenever Jim Crow got to laying down the letter of the law, to stating the state of segregation, he did it with his peck, peck, peck. And on this day, Jim Crow's peck was a duet.

The bus driver stands with his fingers pointing toward the rear, the driver's seat is engulfed in the stuff, swirling about like the Venom suit in SpiderMan, using him as its conduit. But, "even with Jim Crow's peck, peck, peck sounding like rust on a bedspring, Rosa stayed seated."

When Rosa leaves the bus, escorted by two police officers, the inkblot encompassing all of the bus.

The boycott begins. For one year, African-Americans - followed by white - refused to ride, crippling a major aspect of the American infrastructure across the nation.

Then came the miracle. The Supreme Court invited Jim Crow in for a visit, and waved a gavel on his bony wings. The judge in the courthouse said, "Jim, you're all wrong."

The black visage lifts, the colors of the page are able to shine through. "Bony wings, adieu. Peck, peck, peck, later for you. Bye-bye, boycott blues."

12.12.2010

Uncle Bobby's Wedding (2008)

Written and Illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen

Watercolor and graphite on cold press watercolor paper
Text set in Espirit

Designed by Katrina Damkoehler

G.P. Putnam's Sons

Such a simple tale, told gracefully with warmth and humor, it is perhaps shocking that it remains such a controversial book.

"Bobby was Chloe's favorite uncle. They went for long walks together," Brannen writes, and there they go, the two guinea pigs, hand in hand, strolling nonchalantly through the woods, through which shafts of light pierce.

Later we see them rowing on a lake beneath the moonlit sky, and Uncle Bobby seems to be pointing out constellations to the young girl. They are truly the best of friends. However, this friendship is tested when Chloe discovers that Bobby is getting married to his friend Jamie!

All of their friends and relatives whoop and holler at the news, laughing and crying and feeling generally congratulatory... all except Chloe.

"I still don't think you should get married. You have me! We can keep having fun together, like always."

After awhile, however, Chloe warms to the idea, and to Jamie.

"I wish you were both my uncles," said Chloe.

"You get your wish, sweetheart," said Bobby. "When we get married, you'll have an Uncle Jamie, too."

They have this exchange whilst roasting marshmallows in a fireplace, an unfinished game of Monopoly laying behind them. Brannen has a real eye for these sort of relaxing, pastoral activities. The eponymous wedding is no different.

An afternoon breeze cooled the garden. Daisies and buttercups bloomed in the grass and the air smelled like roses.

All of the guests are barefoot - which isn't so remarkable since going back through the book I see that everyone is always barefoot - but even so, taking in the blooming flowers and the soft grass and the sunshine, I like to think that they're especially barefoot.

That night, all in attendance dance to the light of the moon, holding hands and frolicking, the air filled with fireflies.

"That was the best wedding ever," said Chloe. "I planned it all from the beginning."

This book was first reviewed in Tales and Their Tellers 4: "We're Here, We're Queer, and We're Anthropomorphic!"

12.04.2010

King and King (2000)

Written and illustrated by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland

Tricycle Press


The Crown Kitty and Friends Cordially Invite You to Celebrate a Royal Wedding

Reception to follow in the Royal Gardens

Bring Lots of Presents

There's a manic energy in this picture book. It is a cacophony of collage and jarring color schemes. The first page announces the premise:

On the tallest mountain above the town lived a queen, the young crown prince, and the crown kitty. The queen had ruled for many years and she was tired of it. She made up her mind that the prince would marry and become king before the end of the summer.

Pretty straightforward, as picture book fantasies go. To describe the opening illustration, which offers an overview of the kingdom in question, is not so straightforward. I feel certain that the artists created their own handmade paper to serves as the sky, a peach colored paper in which the bits of shredded newspaper used in making it are still visible. The sun pulsates like a satellite dish, surrounded by stars, clouds, jet planes and hot-air balloons. The earth looks like fingerpainted hills, upon which cutouts of simple houses have been pasted haphazardly.

This is the kingdom of the young crown prince, a balding, sickly, pale-faced fellow wearing brightly colored clothes and a comically oversized two-dimensional crown.

"I don't understand you. When I was your age, I'd been married twice already!" his mother barks at him from the far end of the dinner table. From out of her mouth come flying tiny words, pasted together like cut-up ransom notes. "To care for," "Excellence," "love," "traumhochzeit!" along with an assortment of fish-bones, beetles, ants, airplanes and hearts.

Finally, after calling every "castle, alcazar and palazzo near and far," the queen arranges for a bevy of grotesqueries to parade for her son, with their oddly disjointed limbs and extreme proportions. Not even Princess Rahjmashputtin from Mumbai can charm the seemingly overly-picky Prince.

"Wait! There is one more princess. Presenting Princess Madeline and her brother, Prince Lee!"

Aha! True love at last! Stand aside, young, blond Disney princess, for it is the blue-eyed, devil-goatteed brother of yours who causes a cascade of hearts to come pouring forth from the Prince's chest. And the feeling, as they say, is mutual.

With a flip of the page, the two are wed, and following another turn of the page, they are seen lounging about a giant chess board beneath the peach-colored sky, surrounded by the manic collage and jarring color scheme and everyone, we are told, "lives happily ever after."
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