"Today the greatest challenge in publishing is distribution and discoverability. As a result, sites like [PictureBooksReview] are more important than ever to discerning readers, new authors and independent publishers."
-Steve Floyd, chief executive officer of August House books

"The interview is so amazing! I appreciate you picking up on all these aspects of what I've been doing. It's always great to talk with someone who understands what goes into these things."

- Jose Lucio, self-published author of Heave Ho!
Showing posts with label Margaret K. McElderry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Margaret K. McElderry. Show all posts

4.20.2012

Odysseus and the Cyclops (1995)

Odysseus and the Cyclops
Retold and Illustrated by Warwick Hutton

Watercolor and pen on paper

Text set in Palatino

Margaret K. McElderry Books

I’ve said before that Warwick Hutton enjoys showing how small humans are in comparison to larger forces. This book is no different.

In other stories in which a protagonist faces a giant, the protagonist is often drawn normally, while the giant is enormous and fills the page. Or perhaps we only see the foot of the beast, or the eye.

In Hutton’s illustrative world, the giant is the normal-sized one, and it is the rest of the humans which are puny. In fact, we can often barely make out their expressions.

This cyclops is not nearly so monstrous. Were it not for his size and his single eye, he might not even be considered a monster. He is rather sensibly dressed and well-kempt, and appears to make his livelihood as a shepherd. We see him with his shepherding staff and flock of sheep, being led in and out of his cave. In fact, he seems so sensible, that Odysseus at first attempts to reason with him.

“Good sir, we are travelers on our way home. The great god Zeus respects all those who help travelers, and we wonder if you will sell us some of your cheese and let us go on our way?”

Polyphemus the Cyclops does not take Odysseus up on this good-natured offer, however, adding as an afterthought, “You might be good enough to eat, though.”

Odysseus and the Cyclops

I counted six men consumed over the course of the next two days of entrapment, two at a time, so that the bones decorating the cave floor gradually increase. The dwindling men must make their escape, and they must do so using their cunning. I got a real sense of the claustrophobia the men felt, their powerlessness. The only thing they have going for them is the fact that after two men, the cyclops seems too full to eat any more.

So. You have a jar of wine, a burning fire, a flock of sheep, and only one entrance with a cyclops guarding it. How would you escape?

Odysseus and the Cyclops
Hint: Go for the eye.

2.16.2011

Moses in the Bulrushes (1986)

Retold and Illustrated by Warwick Hutton

Watercolors

Margaret K. McElderry

Another great work by Hutton.  Text-wise, it is the briefest of all the books of his I've reviewed so far, opting as he does to spread out a single sentence over the course of several pages.  For example:

There was a Hebrew family called Levi, and when a son was born to them the mother, seeing that he was a healthy child, decided to hide him carefully for three months, hoping to save his life.

There is an awful lot of story in that sentence, and Hutton divvies it up over four pages, showing us the happy family seemingly posing in front of their home, followed by an interior shot of the women and the infant - worried men glancing in from the background, chickens pecking at their feed in the foreground.  Then there is the loving mother embracing her child, and finally the nervous mother stowing the child away like carry-on luggage.

The book opens, however, with the Pharaoh facing us - the audience - angrily.  "Behold the people of Israel are more numerous and mightier than we are!" he yells.

The two things I've come to admire about Hutton are on display here.  First, the contrast between tiny humans and their larger surroundings.  I find this again and again.  It is exemplified here by the minuscule Egyptians and the awesome pillars of the Pharaoh's palace which take up two whole pages, and is paralleled several pages earlier by the Egyptian women bathing in the water, in which it is the tremendous trunks and branches of the surrounding trees which take up most of the pages, producing a staggering comparison.

Secondly, Hutton's unflinching eye for the human body - seldom seen in a children's book.  We can see the Pharaoh's daughter's nude body quite clearly in several pages as she's bathing, and even after she's finished.  It's all presented very matter-of-factly.

I almost wished Hutton had kept the story focused on Moses as a baby.  Instead, near the end, we suddenly see grown-up Moses standing before a long line of several thousand Jews, pyramids silhouetted against darkened, thunderous clouds in the distance.  "Moses was a man of God and lived to be a hundred and twenty years old," is the final sentence of the text, though the final image is of a fish swimming through the bulrushes, to which we have narratively returned.
.
Click here for more Bible stories from the Old Testament!

2.04.2011

Adam and Eve (1987)

Retold and Illustrated by Warwick Hutton

Watercolor

Margaret K. McEldery Books

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

This is a straight adaption of the creation story found in Genesis, using the language of the King James Version.  The first image is of a dark stage, the blue of the waters just subtly colored in, a sliver of light just barely visible.  I have not found Hutton to do such abstract images before, and I can't help but wonder if this represented a challenge for him, especially as this is the illustration which opens up this work.

As the earth takes shape and comes into form, so does the artistic rendering of same.  The next page, the sun and the moon are in the same sky, plumes of what appear to be smoke, but are perhaps meant to be billowing shadow which will eventually become night.  Or, as God puts it, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the water."

God is drawn as a white outline of a person, whose face we never see.  He brings Adam to life in a circle of light.  The animals also come out of a similar orb of light, and Adam and God watch as they emerge, lions and horses scattering off into the jungle, birds immediately taking off toward the sky.

Then, the final creation - Adam laying face down in the earth, unconscious, while Eve floats above him, as though a spirit who has just been exorcised.  This is but a small scene in a much richer illustration filled with blooming flowers and wild overgrowth, animals hiding in shadow.

 I must admit I admire about Hutton's view of Eden is that where the text declares, "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed," then indeed, it is so.  Hutton is not ashamed either.  Adam has a penis.  Eve has breasts.  They both possess bare bottoms where their backs are turned.  It is not for naught.  After the serpent has done it beguiling, we next see the first humans hidden in the woods, using leaves to cover themselves, Eve with a hand across her breasts.  It is a resonant image.

Down the garden path strolls that glowing white outline of a person, and all the animals hide in fear, peeking out.

So He drove out the man and the woman from the garden of Eden and He placed at the east of the garden cherubims and a flaming sword to guard the tree of life.

Such a stark tale.  Is there a moral?  I don't think so.  Just a portrait of the human condition.
.
Click here for more Bible stories from the Old Testament!

12.14.2010

Jonah and the Great Fish (1983)

Retold and Illustrated by Warwick Hutton


Warwick Hutton is growing on me. He seemed a bit stale in Theseus and the Minotaur, but now I am finding something endearing about his simple illustrations. I notice too that he likes to draw people very small. He is not one for close-ups. On most pages, the main characters are tiny figures surrounded by the larger landscape which seems more Hutton's forte. I feel like if he could do a whole book that was composed of nothing but seascapes and mountains, he would.

In this book, the perspective really works. I felt like I was watching events unfold from God's point of view. On the very first page, Jonah stands looking out at us - the audience - with something of a perplexed expression on his face. The text informs us that God has just spoken to him, saying, "Arise and go to the city of Nineveh!"

Of course, Jonah immediately bolts. Wouldn't you?

We see him next as a tiny figure careening through the streets, trying to outrun the presence of the supernatural, to lose himself in the crowds. Eventually, he finds himself by the ports where he books passage on the first ship that will take him, bound for Tarshish. It's not mentioned in this version of the story, but from what I understand, Tarshish is located in the exact opposite direction as Nineveh.

Who, me?

But there is no escaping from God. That, more than anything, seems to be the point of this story: You can run, but you can't hide.

The ship set sail, but almost at once the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest. The wind and the waves grew ever more threatening.

Hutton is really in his element here, with the black clouds intruding upon the blue sky, the crashing waves and the fleeing dolphins and seagulls. Eventually, Jonah comes clean. He announces to the sailors who he is, why God is angry with him. "Throw me into the sea!" he says. "Only then will the waters be calm!"


The sailors do throw him overboard, all the meanwhile begging his forgiveness. It might have been nice for Jonah to spare them this grief, and instead just jump into the waters himself. Nevertheless, once Jonah is overboard, Hutton returns to his long-view approach, and we see the blanket of the ocean has settled down.

However, beneath the tiny ship, the dark shape of the great fish swims near. It has an ominous feel, which I liked very much.

For three days and three nights, Jonah lives within the belly of the beast, all the meanwhile praying, "Lord, help me. You have cast me into the deep. Water stretches for miles around me. Vast waves roll over my head. I am banished from your sight. I will never again disobey your word, if only I can be saved, and from now on I will praise you and give thanks to you."


Now, if it were me, I would have said, "Oh, come on, you're only saying that because I was trying to kill you!" But, I guess God must have though Jonah was being sincere, because on the next page, Jonah is vomited up on shore, along with other smelly, partially-digested fish and eels. He is free, and has no doubt learned his lesson about the futility of rebelling against an all-powerful being.

The story ends with this, "Jonah went to Nineveh as the Lord had commanded. And the people of Nineveh gave up their evil ways and believed in the Lord."


The Legend of Saint Nicholas (2003)

Written and Illustrated by Demi

Paint and Ink

Text set in Packard

Margaret K. McElderry


We call upon Your mercy, O Lord. Through the intercession of St. Nicholas, keep us safe amid all dangers so that we may go forward without hindrance on the road to salvation.

This is not - as one might be expecting - the true story behind jolly St. Nick who would one day be transformed and reiterated as Santa Claus. It's more of the myth behind the myth. Which at first frustrated me, as I had read with genuine curiosity about the historical Saint Nicholas. But upon reflection, I like the idea of there being myths within myths. A true hall of mirrors, this.

"As soon as he was born, Nicholas showed amazing and miraculous powers. On his very first day, he stood up in his bath and prayed to God!" Demi writes, and there he is, a newborn babe, standing with his head bowed and his hands folded. Was baby Jesus himself as pious as this? I think not.

As a toddler, Nicholas fasted on every holy saint's say. He refused to nurse, preferring to pray all day.

There's an absurdity to the premise which brings to mind Oskar Matzerath from Grass' The Tin Drum (who in turn serves as the literary ancestor of The Family Guy's Stewie Griffin), the baby who is born with complete cognition and maturity intact. Demi goes on to chronicle several other miraculous events in your Nicholas' life, illustrating them in her gorgeous, gilded style, which culminate in story of a nobleman who had fallen upon hard times, and was forced to sell each of his three daughters so that he could collect the dowry. St. Nicholas, learning of the man's troubles, anonymously sends him bags of coins at night, tossing them in through open windows. On the third night, the bag falls into the youngest girl's open stockings. Aha! Thus is born the long-lasting Christmas tradition.

From there, Nicholas travels the world, performing miracles and dispensing wisdom and piety, calming stormy seas, rescuing the unjustly imprisoned. Perhaps the greatest of all miracles comes when he learns that "a wicked innkeeper kidnapped three little boys, killed them, and salted them in a tub of brine, intending to serve them as food." Yikes. Nicholas, praying to the Lord, raises the bodies of the dead children from the brine and brings them back to life.

So, not only does Santa Claus see you when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake, but he can raise the dead as well.

It is only in the last several pages that Demi shows his transformation into Santa, as he mingles with the Dutch character Sinter Klass and we see him flying in his sleigh packed with goodies, led by his team of reindeer. It's an image which seems rather incongruous with the preceding pages of formal beauty and religiousness.

Throughout the world today, whether he goes by the name of St. Nicholas, Sinter Klass, or Santa Claus, this figure who shows enormous generosity, a love of children, deep care for the poor and needy, and a completely selfless nature is considered to embody the spirit of Christmas and the true spirit of the Lord.


This review is linked from Tales and Their Tellers 7: "The Prayer of Saint Nicholas."

11.05.2010

Theseus and the Minotaur (1989)

Theseus and the Minotaur Retold and Illustrated by Warwick Hutton

Margaret K. McElderry

This is one of the most downbeat of adventures, and Hutton doesn't do much to up-play it. He has a very dry, straightforward way of telling a story, which can comes across as unemotional. "Every nine years," he begins, "the people of Athens had to make a dreadful payment in tribute to Minos, king of Crete, because one of his sons had been killed in Athens." And that's the narrative tone for the story.

I was disappointed that the labyrinth gets such short shrift. I love seeing how different artists portray it, and love imagining victims lost within its passages. Instead, we spend most of the story watching Theseus journey across the seas and falling in love with the lovely Ariadne.

Finally, midway through, there are two pages of Theseus traversing the labyrinth. Thanks to Ariadne's ball of string, however, he has no problem finding the snoozing minotaur. The battle takes place in a single sentence: "Despite the thick stench and deep, wild roars, Theseus bravely cut and struck with the sword until the monster half-man lay dead."

A quick off-page rescue later, and Theseus, Ariadne and the other captives are racing to their boat. Hutton really enjoys these nautical sequences. I get the feeling he wishes the whole story could have just been comprised of people sailing in ships. So, Theseus has slain the beast, Ariadne is his forever, and everyone lives happily ever after!

No. Theseus strands Ariadne on the island of Naxos while she has fallen asleep. She awakens and realizes she has been abandoned. The sly Dionysus then appears out of nowhere and marries her in a brief ceremony.

Meanwhile, Theseus is still headed for Crete when he realizes, Wait! What happened to that beautiful woman I just rescued? Wasn't she just here a moment ago? He's so distraught that he forgets to hoist the white sail, like he told his father he would.

There was great joy and happiness among his companions when they landed on their own shore, but Theseus knew from the way people looked at him that something was wrong. "You said if you were safe you would hoist the white sail! Did you forget?" the people asked. "Your father, King Aegeus, watched and watched from the clifftop for your ship to come back. When at last he saw it far out in the distance with its black sail still up, he thought you must be dead. He stumbled, weeping, to his feet, and then fell from the cliff to the sea below. Theseus, you father is dead. You are now our king."

Way to go, Theseus!

Part of the Greek Mythology series.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...