Sunday, February 01, 2009

79 (2009 #4). Eight Picture Books

Just before the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced on January 26, I checked out a number of books at my local county library that had been mentioned by various bloggers and polls as contenders for some of the awards. The following suggestions for the Caldecott didn’t win, although some won other awards or appeared on various “best” or “notable” lists:

The Pencil – by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated in acrylic by Bruce Ingman. Actually this book would not have been eligible for the Caldecott as neither Ahlberg nor Ingman are United States residents, but I’d seen it reviewed on many blogs. It’s an amusing, clever story of a pencil, paint brush, and eraser that come to life and create (or wipe out) a world where inanimate objects, as well as living things, ask the pencil to give them a name (check out the ant on the bottom right of the next-to-last two-page color spread!).

Jumpy Jack and Googily –by Meg Rosoff, illustrated by Sophie Blackall with Chinese ink and watercolor on paper, named to School Library Journal’s Best [picture] Books 2008 list. Jumpy Jack the snail is terrified there are monsters everywhere despite the reassuring words and actions of his friend Googily, who is a…guess. Jumpy Jack has rather big goggle eyes himself and is a bit scary. The illustrations are amusing and the story is rather tongue-in-cheek, especially for the grown-up reading it aloud.

Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek – by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated in watercolor and pen-and-ink by John Hendrix. This is historical fiction based on apparently true stories told by Lincoln’s boyhood friend and neighbor, Benjamin Austin Gollaher. In Knob Creek, Kentucky in 1816, seven-year-old Lincoln falls in a creek and is rescued by Gollaher. With the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth occurring this year, this ALA Notable Children’s Book for 2009 is timely, and written and illustrated in a cartoon-like style that will appeal to children.

That Book Woman2008 Cuffie honorable mention for best picture book, by Heather Henson, illustrated by David Small in ink, watercolor, and pastel chalk. Inspired by the real Pack Horse Librarians, known as “book women” in Kentucky Appalachia in the 1930s, this is a heartwarming story of a boy whose admiration for these traveling librarians encourages him to learn to read. A must for book lovers!

In a Blue Room - written by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Tricia Tusa in ink, watercolor, and gouache. Although a 2009 Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book, this tale of a little girl who wants everything to be blue at bedtime was disappointing, both the pictures and the story line.

The Butter Man - written by Elizabeth and Ali Alalou, illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli in gouache. While I liked the depiction of life in the High Atlas Mountains of Moracco, particularly the author’s note and glossary at the end (and the yummy descriptions of couscous), the illustrations of this 2009 Zolotow Highly Commended Title were too childlike and did not really portray the culture described in the book.

Before John Was a Jazz Giant - written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls with acrylic, pencil, and collage. This picture book biography of saxophonist John Coltrane was an ALA Notable Children’s Book for 2009 and a 2009 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. It makes a great point in the text (you have to listen before you can make music) and has an informative author’s note and suggestions for further reading and listening at the end.

Silent Music - written and illustrated by James Rumford in mixed media, using pencil and charcoal drawings enchanced on the computer, and much of the author’s own calligraphy. This book was an ALA Notable Children’s Book for 2009 and a 2009 Charlotte Zolotow honor book. It’s a simple story of how young Ali uses calligraphy to distract himself from the bombing of Baghdad in 2003, with a little information on famous calligrapher Yaqut al-Musta'simi who did the same during the Mongol invasion in 1258.

There’s also a message, as Ali says, “It’s funny how easily my pen glides down the long, sweeping hooks of the word HARB— stubbornly it resists me when I make the difficult waves and slanted staff of SALAM—peace...” This is combined with an Escher-like tessellation where birds break out of the interlocking geometric pattern and fly away.

I LOVED the illustrations in this book! From the copyright page, they are “inspired by the many photos posted on the Web by photographers and American service personnel in Iraq.” They are collages of jewel-tone floral and geometric designs that echo Moorish tile designs, as well as the inclusion of silhouettes and Iraqi stamps, money and postcards, set on desert-colored backgrounds. Calligraphy Arabic words, translated in places (and not in others), are sometimes part of the background or clothing. Ali and his family are portrayed lovingly (I loved the picture of Ali’s father shaving). This is a gorgeous book – too bad it was not recognized by the Caldecott committee.


  1. I don't keep up with picture books much, so I'm only familiar with two of these because I had to catalog them. Silent Music stuck with me, although I haven't actually read anything other than the short summary in the bib record - I agree, the illustrations are gorgeous.

  2. I've ordered all these books, so you'll be cataloging them sometime. :)