Saturday, June 12, 2010

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback was the 2000 Caldecott Medal Winner and is worthy of the title. Remember the Caldecott Medal is awarded for the best ILLUSTRATIONS in a picture book. In this case the author is also the illustrator and I always find that preferable. To be the author of a book that wins for illustrations ... well, at least the royalties will skyrocket.

I'm not generally a fan of Taback's use of mixed media because there is always so much going on. There's the story and then all of the extra messages going on not to mention a completely filled page. But I'm talking as the reader of the book and not the listener. I dislike storylines that are interrupted by added bubbles or miniature newspaper headlines.

But I genuinely appropriate this book because the storyline is so simple that my mind can appreciate the extras. There are few lines to each page and much repetition. It looks less like a complicated mess and more like a whole and complete work.

The story is based upon a Yiddish folk song. Joseph had a little coat which got old and worn and so he made a little jacket out of it which got old and worn and so made a little vest out of it and so on until he is left with a button that he loses. The moral of the story is that you can always make something out of nothing and the ending of the book proves that you can make a GREAT something out of nothing.

The kids like the die cut holes that transform the overcoat into its next reincarnation. Excellent book to bring home to read to kids of all ages. Mine are 4.5 years apart and both equally enjoy it. (And my husband is looking over my shoulder at it.) Now they've taken it from me. The Yiddish folk song is provided at the end and they're trying to bang it out on the mini piano.

There were four books that received Caldecott Honors in 2000. When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry ... by Molly Bang is one and is also another example of a book where the author is also the illustrator. Although it is not one of my favorites, it is brilliant in its simplicity.

If you have a child who succumbs to temper tantrums on occasion, and who doesn't, this book could help both the child and the adult find a better way to deal with them. Everyone gets angry, really really angry, sometimes. And that is all right. It is human. It is how we deal with that anger or direct it that gets us in trouble.

When Sophie gets angry she kicks and screams and wants to smash things. Then she runs until she is tired enough to cry. She runs outside in nature and the sights and sounds comfort her and calm her until she is all better. When she is no longer angry, she is able to rejoin the family and pick up where she left off.

It may not be possible for your child to run off into the forest and watch the ocean ... but if you can make a plan for you and your child for when they/you are this angry that includes the elements that help calm them/you ... you have a recipe for success. Music, art, water, books ...

I say this book is brilliant because it so easily conveys through the artwork the steps that anyone goes through when they are angry. At first glance, the pictures seem childlike and simple rather than professional. This is also part of the genius. Characters are outlined in thick lines of color rather than the usual thin, black lines. When Sophie's anger appears, all of those lines turn a vicious red. As she explodes like a volcano, red, orange and yellow are used heavily and the reader feels the agitation. Those colors are carried into the outdoors, but as Sophie calms down, the colors change with her to a soothing blue and finally green. The pages become relaxing to the reader. Thumbs up from the Crayola Girl.

The next book is more along the lines of what people consider gorgeous artwork - The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen, adapted and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, J398.209489/A. Pinkney is a talented artist extraordinaire. He just won the Caldecott Medal this year for The Lion and the Mouse.

Pinkney's art is recognizable and never disappoints. He illustrates often for other authors and always provides an excellent backdrop for the story without distracting from it.

This is the classic story of The Ugly Duckling. Here is the case where you have multiple copies of a book with multiple renditions and you have the ability to choose your favorite. As with most folktales and fairy tales, the story is somewhat lengthy and may not hold the attention of every child, particularly the younger ones.

Let me start by saying that Trina Schart Hyman is one of my all time favorite illustrators. I chose her for my illustrator study when I was in library school. If I wanted to emulate anyone's artwork, it would probably be hers. It is very similar to David Smalls - think The Library. She won the Caldecott Medal in 1985 for Saint George and the Dragon. A Child's Calendar with poems by John Updike and illustrations by Hyman, J811/U - a waste of talent in the opinion of the poetry hater.

This book is a collection of twelve poems, one for each month of the year and titled accordingly. Each poem is four or five stanzas long except for December which warrants six. Second and fourth lines rhyme. Short and sweet enough for the youngest listeners. I'll take it for a spin with my two as I confess, I've yet to read it in its entirety short as it is.

And now, presenting, my kind of book - Sector 7 by David Wiesner. Save the best for last. Wiesner has won the Caldecott Medal three times with Flotsam, the most recent in 2007, Three Pigs in 2002, and my personal favorite, Tuesday, in 1992. Wiesner makes wordless picture books for the older reader and they are DELIGHTFUL!!

Sector 7 is about a school field trip to the Empire State Building. One artistic child gets separated from the rest of the group and meets a cloud child who takes him to Sector 7. Consider it a Union Station for clouds with arrivals and departures for cirrostratus, cumulonimbus and fog on the boards.

The clouds show the boy all of the different shapes that they are capable of. The boy gets and idea and draws his own pictures, of a lion fish, an octopus ... And the clouds, in great detail, mimic the pictures and go out into the world for all to see and enjoy. Enter the angry adults to run Sector 7, surprised to see the amazing pictures in the sky, they leave their offices to find the culprit and escort him off the premises.

The boy is returned via cloud to the Empire State Building and his class with is cloud friend stuffed under his coat. But the damage has already been done. The skies of New York City are filled with the creatures of the deep much to the enjoyment of cats and fish alike. Some of Sector 7's management are still disgruntled, but upon closer inspection, you can see the childlike wonder and even appreciation in some of the adults. Did I say DELIGHTFUL? FABULOUS! EXTRAORDINARY! For the young at heart. Stick it to the man!

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