The Caldecott Medal in the 1970's
Welcome to Four & Twenty Blackbirds, CMNH's blog series on the history of the Caldecott Medal and the children's book illustrations that have been fortunate enough to be honored and awarded by the Caldecott committee.
We're now entering one of the most enigmatic decades of the 20th Century. The tumultuous events of the previous decade spiral into the beginning of the 1970's and form cultural rivulets leading to political and economic upheaval, a renaissance in American film and the ascendancy of disco, punk and progressive rock music. The bright eye-popping color palette of the previous decade falls away to the earthier tones of what became known as the "Me Decade." The 70's earned the "Me Decade" nickname due to the overwhelming impression that the younger generation, unlike the one before them, was more interested in their own lives than the world at large.
A quick glance at the Caldecott Honorees and Medal Winners from the decade couldn't paint a more different picture. Of the ten books whose illustrators won the Caldecott Medal for elevating the work to the status of, "most distinguished American picture book for children," seven of them directly dealt with other cultures, religions and ways of life far removed from the average American child that was the likely target audience for these stories when they were published. African folktales - with an extra emphasis on the Ashanti and Swahili cultures - popped up repeatedly among the honorees and winners throughout the decade, as did Jewish legends, Pueblo mythology, the Quaker movement, Japanese fairy tales and Native American life.
Let us now look at some books from the grand, misunderstood decade that was the 1970's. A book about amphibian friendship. A book about a donkey. And a book about a witch.
Who: Arnold Lobel (born in Los Angeles, CA, 1933)
Book: Frog and Toad are Friends / Harper & Row / 1970
Plot: This beloved children's book was Lobel's tenth published work and the first of the "Frog & Toad" books - the series that made Arnold Lobel a household name. Broken up into five short stories - "Spring", "The Story", "A Lost Button", "The Swim," and "The Letter" - take a look at the simple every day lives of the more adventurous Frog and his reserved, but stalwart, friend, Toad. Many children and parents used Frog and Toad are Friends as a jumping off point to talk further about subjects as diverse as forgetfulness ("The Lost Button"), sadness and happiness ("The Letter"), body image/changes and shyness ("The Swim"), restlessness ("Spring") and, expectedly, friendship ("The Story").
Misc: Frog and Toad are Friends was named as a runner-up for the Caldecott Medal when the honored list of books was announced in 1971. But Lobel had good company as Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen and Blair Lent's The Angry Moon were his fellow runners-up. Gail E. Haley's A Story a Story was named the Caldecott Medal winner for the 1970 class of nominees. Lobel would again be named as a Caldecott runner-up the following year for 1971's Hildilid's Night and would finally win the prestigious award ten years after his first nomination for 1980's Fables. Lobel went on to write and illustrate three more Frog & Toad books: Frog and Toad Together, Frog and Toad All Year and Days with Frog and Toad. Years after Lobel's untimely death (he passed in 1987), his daughter Adrianne colored three uncolored manuscripts of his that were found in an estate sale and were released in 2009 as The Frogs and Toads All Sang and Odd Owls and Stout Pigs: A Book of Nonsense.
Many children who became acquainted with Frog and Toad in the 1970's and 80's may recall a series made by Churchill Films that adapted the first Frog and Toad books into 20 minute claymation shorts. The series was narrated by Lobel. A Year with Frog and Toad, a musical, premiered on Broadway in 2003. Commissioned by Adrianne - who also designed the set - the stage production was adapted by her husband, actor Mark Linn-Baker, who also went on to play Toad in the original cast. In 2012, the School Library Journal listed it at #15 on their list of the, "Top 100 Picture Books".
Availability: Frog and Toad are Friends, as well as the entire Frog and Toad series, is available in paperback, hardcover and digital formats as well as larger collected editions of the complete series.
Who: William Steig (born in Brooklyn, NY, 1907)
Book: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble / Windmilll Books / 1969
Plot: Sylvester is a donkey. Sylvester lives in the town of Oatsdale. One of Sylvester's favorite hobbies is collecting rocks, stones and pebbles. The more unusual and strange the rock, the more Sylvester wants it for his collection. One day, Sylvester comes across the strangest piece of sediment he's ever seen: a magic pebble! This pebble grants wishes and Sylvester can't wait to try it out. Unfortunately, a frightening lion crosses Sylvester's path before he can get to his wishes and in his scared state, Sylvester quickly wishes he was a rock in order to hide from the lion. *POOF* Sylvester's wish is granted. But in becoming a rock, Sylvester loses contact with the pebble. Without physically touching the pebble, he can't wish himself back to his donkey form. Will Sylvester be trapped as a rock forever? Will Sylvester's mom and dad ever find their son? And what will happen to the magic pebble?
Misc: You already know Steig even if you've never read Sylvester, which, in addition to winning the Caldecott Medal in 1970 was also a finalist for the National Book Award. And maybe you've never read The Amazing Bone, his Caldecott Honor book from 1976 or Doctor De Soto, a 1983 National Book Award winner (an award shared with multiple Caldecott winner Barbara Cooney for Miss Rumphius). His biggest contribution to the pop culture landscape, and what made him a household name eleven years after it was written, was a small book from 1990 titled Shrek!. Perhaps you've heard of it? And the four film franchise it spawned? Going on to win the inaugural Academy Award for Best Animated Feature? But while Shrek!, both the book and the films, have been generally well loved by the populace, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble ran across some controversy not long after it was published. Despite eventually being named as one of the "100 Best Books of the Century" by the National Education Association, upon its release Sylvester saw many school districts and organizations challenge the book due to the fact that police officers in the town of Oatsdale were portrayed as pigs. The popular defense of the book pointed out that several different professions in Oatsdale were represented by pig employees, but that still caused Sylvester to be seen as subversive for its time. Younger children (pre-K) may have some issues with the possibility that Sylvester and his parents may never reunite and the twist of magic gone wrong (the staple of oh-so-many fables) might cause anxiety in those that aren't used to this fairy tale trope. Regardless, a William Steig picture book is a necessity in any family library. Luckily, he wrote nearly three dozen books just for children - the majority of which are still in print.Availability: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is available in hardcover, paperback and on CD (as well as audio cassette, if you rock the old school style).
Who: Tomie dePaola (born in Meriden, CT, 1934)
Book: Stegra Nona / Simon & Schuster / 1975
Plot: Strega Nona takes place in Calabria, in the southern region of Italy. Stega Nona (translated from Italian as "Witch Grandmother") is well known and well liked in her small village. Her special remedies are used by the villagers for everything from love connections to wart removal. Realizing she's not getting any younger, Strega Nona hires an assistant named Big Anthony to help her with household tasks. However, due to Big Anthony's inability to "pay attention" he incorrectly performs a spell while she is out of town. His attempt to provide pasta to the villagers works a little too well and soon the entire town is overrun with a plethora of pasta with no signs of stopping. Will Strega Nona return to the village in time to save everyone? Will the the magic pasta pot ever stop producing pasta? Will Anthony be punished? Will he learn his lesson? Respect, listening, consequences and kindness are all lessons learned through dePaola's recognizable and humorous illustrations and dialogue.
Misc: Only two books published in 1974 were honored in 1975. The winner, Arrow to the Sun by Gerald McDermott and the sole runner up Jambo Means Hello: A Swahili Alphabet Book by Tom Feelings. The 1976 list, which honored the crop of books published in '75 only increased the list to three. Strega Nona was named the runner-up along with Peter Parnall's The Desert is Theirs. The winners were husband and wife team Leo & Diane Dillon for Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears, a book that translated several African legends. The Dillons would also be awarded the Caldecott in 1977 for their more in-depth look at those legends in Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions. dePaola, who taught art at several institutes of higher learning including New England College and Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire before devoting himself full-time to children's books, has published over 120 works - 11 of which are Strega Nona stories (including Strega Nona Meets Her Match, Strega Nona Takes a Vacation and Strega Nona's Magic Lessons.) Though "Strega Nona" and the characters are wholly original characters created by dePaola, the general plot is an update of the Germanic fairytale, The Magic Porridge Pot. dePaola, who still resides in New London, NH, was honored by being named the U.S. nominee for the international Hans Christian Andersen award and was named the recipient of the Laura Ingalls Wilder award in 2011.
Availability: Strega Nona is available in hardcover, paperback, board book, digital and audio formats.
Greetings, my dear ladies, lords, and all my precious citizens of Wonderland!
It is I, your Queen of Hearts, and I thought it high time to address you again! It has been an awfully long time since we last had a chat, hasn’t it? Why, I don’t believe I’ve spoken to many of you since our little party last February! Ah, what can I say? A queen’s work is never done! If I’m not policing those good-for-nothing cards in their rose painting, then I’m having my croquet game interrupted by some other impertinence! But I do remember our time together fondly. There were so many types of tea, lovely cookies, enchanting flowers, a plethora of hearts, of course, and I welcomed so many new lords and ladies into the Royal Court of Wonderland! Such allegiances truly do our fair land credit.
In fact, I rather feel like doing it again! Don’t you? Now, I’d never say that you must come – I’d never say that it was absolutely mandatory for all citizens of Wonderland that they come and enjoy tea and cookies and crafting with their ever-so-magnanimous Queen – I mean, really! Does that sound like something I’d say? But all the same, I do hope you’ll attend. Oh, and if any of you happen to see a rather mysterious blonde girl of apparently varying size, do tell me of her whereabouts. I can’t have just anyone traipsing through Wonderland! We shall see if she dares to show up!
Please do say you’ll come to my tea party! I’d be ever so thrilled to see you!
Your dear and faithful Queen
The Caldecott Medal in the 1960's
Welcome to Four & Twenty Blackbirds, CMNH's blog series on the history of the Caldecott Medal and the children's book illustrations that have been fortunate enough to be honored and awarded by the Caldecott committee.
Let's look at a decade full of tumult, triumph and exploration. A decade just as easily defined with "Free Love" as "Endless War." Ferocious. Regimented. Freewheeling. These are not adjectives that one typically uses in concert to describe the same thing. They serve to describe the 1960's - politically, musically, sartorially - and the children's books published at the time were no different.
Who: Maurice Sendak (born in Brooklyn, NY, 1928)
Book: Where the Wild Things Are / Harper & Row / 1963
Plot: Max dresses up as a wolf. Max misbehaves. Max is sent to his room without supper. Max sees his bedroom transform into a jungle environment and grant him access to the land of the Wild Things. Max so impresses these wild beasts that he becomes their King. Will Max stay with the Wild Things and rule over them and their rambunctious ways? Will he ever return home?
Misc: Perhaps you're familiar with this book? It's quite likely, as it's sold over 20 million copies in the 52 years since it was first published. For those that haven't read the story for many years, it's easy to forget just how little text Sendak uses to tell the story of Max and his new WIld Thing co-horts. The amount of words used to describe the plot above is more than 20% of the words Sendak used for his entire story. The lighter reading requirements took a book that many critics found too scary and full of violent imagery that much more attractive to younger readers. According to Sendak, many libraries banned the book until, finally, by 1965, they realized that children continually asked for the book and its absence made them want to read this forbidden curiosity even more. The Caldecott committee awarding Wild Things the medal in 1964 likely helped to quicken the critical turnaround by librarians and critics alike.
Sendak felt that the book (in addition to 1970's In the Night Kitchen and 1981's Outside Over There) show, "how children master various feelings – danger, boredom, fear, frustration, jealousy – and manage to come to grips with the realities of their lives."
Short animated films were produced in 1973 and 1988. A children's opera was commissioned and first performed in London in 1984, followed by it's U.S. premiere in St. Paul, Minnesota the following year. Despite these pre-existing adaptations, the book was long considered to be "unfilmable". That didn't stop Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Her) from directing and Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) from writing the screenplay for the 2009 big screen adaptation - all with Sendak's blessing; something that so many other potential Wild Things potential big-screen suitors could never seem to obtain.
Sendak was often asked about the potential for a sequel to his most famous work and he was consistently against it. Sendak remarked to Stephen Colbert that the thought a sequel to the tale of Max and his Wild Things would be, "the most boring idea imaginable!"
From 1954's A Very Special House through 1982's Outside Over There, Sendak was recognized by the Caldecott committee a staggering eight times - honored seven times and receiving the medal once, for Wild Things. Despite this enormous achievement, Sendak does not hold the record for most recognized by the Caldecotts. That honor belongs to Marcia Brown, honored six times and medaled thrice.Availability: The book - not to mention plush figures, t-shirts with Sendak quotes, the film soundtrack, posters, etc. - continue to be available both online and through your local bookseller/toy store.
Who: Ed Emberley (born in Malden, MA, 1931)
Book: Drummer Hoff / Prentice Hall / 1967
Writer: Barbara Emberley
Plot: Seven soldiers help assemble a cannon and, once assembled, fire it. (That's it. It's as simple as that. Or . . . is it?)
Misc: On the surface, the book written and drawn by the Emberleys is a simple semi-nursery rhyme. Ed Emberley has explained that Drummer was an adaptation of the early 19th Century rhyme "John Ball Shot Them All". The names of the soldiers have changed, but the conceit of rhyming their last names to their responsibility remains, e.g. "General Border gives the order, Sergeant Chowder brings the powder . . ." The illustrations, which are unmistakably Emberley, have been praised for somehow conveying the feel of American Colonial art and the more psychedelic tendencies of the late sixties. It's certainly two styles of art that don't seem to naturally intersect, and yet Emberley makes it seem like the most natural of marriages.
While many critics were quick to label Drummer Hoff as an anti-war poem/book, the Emberleys were always careful to never spell out an explicit message for the book. Ed Emberley, who had received a Caldecott honor for his previous collaboration with wife Barbara for the art on 1966's One Wide River to Cross, spelled out exactly what he thought the take away from Drummer Hoff would - or should - be, in his 1968 Caldecott Medal acceptance speech:
The book’s main theme is a simple one — a group of happy warriors build a cannon that goes “KAHBAHBLOOM.” But, there is more to find if you “read” the pictures. They show that men can fall in love with war and, imitating the birds, go to meet it dressed as if to meet their sweethearts. The pictures also show that men can return from war sometimes with medals, and sometimes with wooden legs . . . The book’s primary purpose is, as it should be, to entertain.
It's difficult to ignore, however, the final page of the book. After the eager soldiers happily build the royal cannon (affectionately named "SULTAN"), and after the aforementioned, and explosively illustrated, "KAHBAHBLOOM", comes that last page. Time has passed. The cannon is in ruins. But the scene is not one of desolation. In place of the medals and finery of the soldiers is grass, overgrown and winding over and around the cannon with wild, wayward orange and yellow flowers shooting up between the blades of grass. Life goes on and thrives in this future scene. A grasshopper and butterfly play on and near the weapon formerly known as SULTAN. A spider has spun his web atop the old armament and a mother and father bird have built their nest in the mouth of the cannon where the are shown feeding their baby birds. Emberley can profess all he wants that Drummer Hoff is meant simply, "to entertain", but the inclusion of the final image makes the story and its art a timeless book that can launch thoughtful discussions among readers of every age.Availability: Drummer Hoff can still easily be found in hardcover, paperback and as a board book at most local bookstores or online purveyors of books.
Who: Uri Shulevitz (born in Warsaw, Poland, 1935)
Book: The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship / Farrar, Straus and Giroux / 1968
Writer: Arthur Ransome
Plot: This adaptation of a Russian folktale sees a Czar announce that whoever in the Kingdom can bring him a flying ship will be given the hand of his daughter the Princess. A peasant family sends two of their three sons on a journey to complete a quest that will see them wed to the Princess. But they discount their third son, the titular "Fool" whose fantastical journey sees him deliver a flying ship to the Czar only to have the Czar continue to challenge his promise with more and more outlandish requests. Will the colorful cast of characters find that their outlandish abilities (the power to drink or eat unimaginable volumes, super vision, inhuman speed, etc.) are suddenly quite practical?
Misc: Why aren't more people familiar with the work of Uri Shulevitz? There's no easy answer for why a writer/illustrator of Shulevitz's immense talent isn't more of a household name. Shulevitz, currently living in New York City, celebrated his 80th year by releasing his 40th book, the transportation themed Troto and the Trucks. Shulevitz was first recognized by the Caldecott committee at the close of the 1960's with the Caldecott Medal for his work on Fool. He continued to change his style while capturing the eye of the committee with Caldecott honors for his work in the 1970's through the 1990's. On the fortieth anniversary of Shulevitz receiving his Caldecott Medal, he received a Caldecott Honor for his work on 2008's How I Learned Geography.
Cult film lovers will recognize pieces of Terry Gilliam's 1988 box office failure "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" are almost directly adapted from some of Ransome/Shulevitz's adaptations.Availability: Hardcover and paperback versions of the book are still in print and are relatively easy to find.
The Caldecott Medal in the 1950's
We're taking a look back at the history of the Caldecott Medal. This series of blogs, titled "Four & Twenty Blackbirds", receives its name from one of the engravings on the actual prize Medal given out for the best children's book illustrations.
Join us now as we enter a decade where Live Comedy was King on (the suddenly ubiquitous) Television Set, Chevrolet was King of the Road and Elvis was just simply, "the King" . . .
Who: Atsushi Iwamatsu, under the pen name Taro Yashima (born in Nejima, Kimotsuki District, Kagashima, 1908)
Book: Umbrella / Viking Press / 1958
Plot: Momo is a Japanese girl, born in New York City, who desperately wants to bring her umbrella (and new red boots!) to school with her. Momo's mother says she cannot, as it has been a long, dry autumn and there is no need for an umbrella. Momo disagrees and insists the umbrella can still help to shield her from the bright sun and strong wind. Momo's mother still says she cannot bring her umbrella with her. But one day, the rains come. Will Momo be ready for them?
Misc: Umbrella was not Yashima's first recognition from the Caldecott committee and it would not be his last. In addition to the tale of Momo and her umbrella, Crow Boy (1955) was named as an Honor book as well as his later work Seashore Story (1967). There are various reasons why writers/illustrators use pen names, but Yashima had a very specific reason for not going by his birth name of Atsushi Iwamatsu. Yashima and his wife Tomoe had been harassed and briefly imprisoned during the 1930's for their opposition to the increasingly militaristic Japanese government. Yashima, who, after attending the Imperial Art Academy in Tokyo and achieving a degree of fame in Japan for his cartooning, fled the country with Tomoe in 1939 for the United States. Unfortunately, their son, Mako, had to be left behind. After Pearl Harbor, he joined the U.S. forces during WWII as an artist for the OSS and changed his name to Taro Yashima, fearful of what would happen to his family still in Japan if the Japanese government found out "Atsushi Iwamatsu" was fighting for the Allies instead of against them. Allowed to finally return to Japan and retrieve Mako in 1949, Yashima began to write and illustrate children's books after the war and decided to keep his adopted name for any published work he produced. Umbrella, despite taking place in New York City, was singled out for the strong influence of Yashima's Japanese culture in the illustrations as well as its strong use of color.Availability: Available online and from your local bookseller
Who: Marcia Brown (born in Rochester, NY, 1918)
Book: The Steadfast Tin Soldier / Atheneum Books / 1953
Writer: Hans Christian Andersen (adaptation)
Plot: A one-legged tin soldier falls in love with a beautiful paper ballerina. After being separated from her he faces many trials and tribulations in his quest to return to her, almost never in control of his journey but forced into new directions by the hands of other toys, animals and humans. Will he ever see his ballerina again? Will there be a happy ending?
Misc: Hans Christian Andersen is rightfully known as a magnificent writer of children's classics. Like his contemporaries, the Brothers Grimm, a multitude of his works have been adapted - often in the form of animation - since they were first published almost 200 years ago. Also like the Brothers Grimm, Andersen's tales were often far more bleak, dark and devoid of a happy ending than their Disney-fied versions. To say that a happy ending is not found by the conclusion of the Tin Soldier's story is putting it mildly. The capricious and fiery fate of the Tin Soldier and his true love makes the denouement of The Velveteen Rabbit look like The Three Little Pigs. There's no question that this story might be too emotionally difficult for early grade school children. There is no questioning, however, Brown's inclusion as a Caldecott Honor Book for her work depicting the tragic tale of the titular tin soldier. In fact, during the 1950's, Brown dominated the Caldecott awards in a way no illustrator had done before or since. From 1948's Stone Soup through 1983's Shadow, Marcia Brown, and her unmistakable line work, were recognized by the committee nine times. The Steadfast Tin Soldier was the sixth book of Brown's to receive the Caldecott honor, with her next three books that were recognized all walking away with the Caldecott Medal. Brown, a clear holder of several Caldecott records, also lays claim to the most Caldecott recognition in consecutive years, with one of her works selected for six straight years in a row from 1950 through 1955. Any conversation concerning the Caldecott Medal during the mid-20th Century - or in its entire history - is not complete without an understanding of Marcia Brown's incredible artwork. More than Seuss, more than Sendak, more than McCloskey - Marcia Brown is truly the King, ahem, Queen of the Caldecotts.Availability: Used library copies and online sources seem to be the easiest way to obtain this version of Tin Soldier, though it's always worth checking with your local bookseller.
The Caldecott Medal in the 1940's
In the first entry of our November Family Literacy Month series, we explored the origins of the Caldecott Medal (Why are there blackbirds on one side of the medal and a horse on the other? Who illustrated a medal for illustrators? Who sculpted said medal?) and shined the spotlight on two of the earliest illustrators, and their respective works, to be honored by the Caldecott Award committee. OUr hope is that readers will reacquaint themselves with illustrators and books that they once cherished while also finding new books to add to the rich fabric of their family's literary tapestry. Join us as we leave the dustbowl behind and jump into a decade where radio was still king, rubber was considered a luxury item, and Jeep, Frisbee and Tupperware all make their grand debut . . .
Who: Louis Slobodkin (born in Albany, NY, 1903)
Book: Many Moons / Harcourt, Brace & Company / 1943
Writer: James Thurber
Plot: A lonely Princess decides that she wants the moon. She must have the moon. Her father, the King, demands that his court acquire it for her. Understandably, there are difficulties with the young princess's demanding request. Can the lowly Court Jester succeed in helping the Princess where the Royal Wizards, the Lord High Chamberlin and the Court Mathematician could not?
Misc: In 1943, Slobodkin brought life to James Thurber's words in Many Moons, although that wasn't an area Thurber often needed help with. Thurber (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) was a celebrated humorist, playwright, author, editor and cartoonist. Instead of using his own drawings for his tale of a forlorn Princess, Slobodkin's sparse, sketched out art was employed. Harcourt, Brace & Company clearly made the correct choice as it earned Thurber the Caldecott Medal the following year. After Many Moons, (also sold as The Princess that Wanted the Moon) Thurber went on to write numerous short stories as well as continue to contribute to The New Yorker alongside his friend and fellow writer E.B. White (who also knew a thing or two about children's books). Slobodkin went on to write and illustrate his own children's science fiction mini-franchise of books known as The Spaceship Under the Apple Tree series from 1952's eponymous first entry through 1972's final entry The Spaceship Returns to the Park.Availability: In a strange move, the publisher commissioned a new artist, Marc Simont, and re-released the book in the mid-90's. Re-illustrating a book, especially to gain more attention when it's reissued is commonplace in the publishing world (see the works of Roald Dahl and L. Frank Baum for two famous examples), but it's quite rare to replace the illustrations of a Caldecott-winner. Simont, however, was no slouch. A multiple Caldecott Honoree and Medal Winner, Simont had also illustrated Thurber's popular children's book The 13 Clocks in 1950 after being personally asked to do so by Thurber himself. Luckily, if you're interested in Slobodkin's vision of the lunar loving Princess, it's still readily available in book stores and online. Note: Does your family have any copies of Slobodkin's Spaceship entries? If so, you may want to protect them. Depending on the condition of these beloved, but sadly out-of-print books, used paperback copies often start around $100 online. That's right - used paperback copies. If you have any new copies that happen to be laying around, you may even be able to build your own spaceship, as they are listed at approximately $2,000 and up online.
Who: Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. - Dr. Seuss (born in Springfield, MA, 1904)
Book: McElligot's Pool / Random House / 1947
Plot: Young Marco has high hopes that he'll catch a fish in the local pond. But this isn't just any pond - oh, no, this is McElligot's Pool, which one of the locals reminds Marco is one of the most polluted, garbage-filled, fish-unfriendly bodies of water around. This summation of the cold, hard facts does not deter Marco. He is determined to catch a fish in McElligot's Pool. Be it goldfish, trout, or - fueled by his vivid imagination regarding not only the length and depth of McElligot's Pool but of its denizens - checkerboard patterned fish, a more equine-than-usual seahorse or a multi-headed eel.
Misc: Seuss published five books within three years of each other, from 1937's And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street through 1940's Horton Hatches the Egg. After this flurry of writing/publishing activity, Seuss didn't release his next book, McElligot's Pool, until seven years later. To be fair, most of the modern world was put on hold from 1940-1945 thanks to the war, and Seuss was no exception. He wrote and drew hundreds of political cartoons during World War II, many of which directly attacked foreign leaders including Hitler and Mussolini, while also saving room to lambaste former American hero Charles Lindbergh for his questionable views on the foreign policy future of the United States. McElligot marked the return of Seuss's earliest protagonist, Marco, from Mulberry Street. It also marked Seuss's first time using watercolors, opposed to his usual pen and ink method, to illustrate his story. Random House loved the new, multi-textured look with colors from each spot of the spectrum, but were wary of the costs involved in publishing a book of its length with full color watercolor prints. They compromised by alternating between black and white pages and fully painted pages. Instead of upsetting the balance of the book's beauty, the sharp, monochromatic pages only help in making the rich watercolors jump and swim off the page. Despite being considered one of the most beautifully rendered of all of the Seuss books, McElligot's Pool was a Caldecott Honoree but did not win the Medal, instead seeing it awarded to Roger Duvoisin for his work in White Snow, Bright Snow. Unlike many other works by Seuss, McElligot's Pool did not receive a major adaptation, though the basic language and text of the story was reproduced in 2000 though the song "It's Possible" from Act I of Seussical: The Musical. Veering from the narrative slightly, the musical recasts the role of Marco to a Who named JoJo. Remarkably, though two more Seuss books would go on to receive Caldecott Honors (1950's Bartholomew and the Oobleck and 1951's If I Ran the Zoo), Geisel was never awarded the Caldecott Medal.
The Caldecott Medal in the 1930's
We're taking a look back at the history of the Caldecott Medal. This series of blogs, titled "Four & Twenty Blackbirds", receives its name from one of the engravings on the actual prize Medal given out for the best children's book illustrations.
At the Children's Museum of New Hampshire, we know how important reading is to the learning process. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said,
"If we encounter a man with rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads."
The same can be applied to families. If you encounter a knowledgeable, humorous family with a large vocabulary and an even larger imagination, you should ask them what books they read. Don't be surprised when you find numerous Caldecott Medal Winners & Caldecott Medal Honorees on their list.
The Caldecott Medal - named after 19th Century illustrator Randolph Caldecott - was designed by American artist Rene Paul Chambellan in 1937. The front, and most recognizable side of the medal, is taken from Caldecott's cover illustration of The Diverting History of John Gilpin from 1878. The picture of the titular Gilpin riding his horse is the image emblazoned upon all books that are chosen as Caldecott winners and honorees. The back of the medal is from Caldecott's illustration of the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence, specifically the line, "Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie".
After nearly eighty years of illustrators being chosen by the American Library Association as either a Caldecott Medal Honor book (which, in our estimation, is a much more prestigious designation than "Nominee" or "Runner-up") or Caldecott Medal Winner, over 300 books have been lucky enough to receive the extra appreciation and recognition for their beautiful, sumptuous, stark, lush, mesmerizing and wondrous illustrations. But for every Seuss, Sendak and McCloskey, whose works have stayed in the public eye via re-printings, adaptations, etc., there's a Slobodkin, Yashima and McDermott whose works still remain as award-worthy as they were decades ago even if they've fallen out of the spotlight.
Taking inspiration from the backside of the prestigious medal, we'll be spending some time here on our blog looking at different artists who have been recognized by the fifteen member Caldecott committee. Let's look at some of the best children's book illustrations that each decade has to offer, starting in the first decade the Medal was awarded.
Who: Thomas Handforth (born in Tacoma, WA, 1897)
Book: Mei Li / Doubleday / 1938
Plot: Set in Peiping (then current name of Beijing), China, Mei Li and her brother San Yo sneak out of their home to attend the New Year's Eve fair. Mei Li strives to show San Yo that girls can do - or at least should be allowed to do - all the things that boys can do. Young Mei Li arrives home to greet the Kitchen God who may somehow be connected to the mysterious words of the fortune teller at the fair.
Misc: Mei Li was the second book to ever win the Caldecott Medal. Handforth, mostly recognized as an artist specializing in lithographs, ultimately illustrated only six picture books for children in his short lifetime. Handforth had spent a significant amount of time in China and was familiar not only with the fashions and culture of the rural Chinese family that appear so prominently in the book, but had also seen first hand the disparity in social opportunities between the genders - even in the very young. Many early 20th Century books, even those recognized by the Caldecott committee, have an unfortunate take on non-American cultures, employing language considered too coarse by 2015 standards. This makes Mei Li, a story about gender inequality with a Chinese female protagonist, even more progressive than one expects. The book was lauded when it was first published for the detailed black and white ink drawings as well as Handforth's propensity for having the characters and their surroundings "spill" out of the "frame".
Availability: Out of Print. Copies range from $30-$80 depending on hardcover, softcover, edition and condition.
If you'd like to learn more about Handforth, Mei Li and his other works, please read Kathleen T. Horning's thorough and illuminating look at not only at the choice to honor Mei Li, but the inception of the Caldecott as an award.
Who: James Daugherty (born in Asheville, NC, 1889)
Book: Andy and the Lion / E.M. Hale & Company / 1938
Plot: An updated version of the classic Androcles and the Lion - a short story that pre-dates Aesop! Taking place near a rural American farm pre-WWII, Andy comes across a lion on his way to school. The lion has a thorn in his paw and is in great distress. How does Andy help the Lion? How does this kind act affect the relationship between Andy and the King of the Jungle? First impressions, kindness, compassion and gratitude are all on display in this short story full of of ink sketches filled in with yellow and sepia tones.
Misc: Daugherty had a productive few years leading up to World War II. After having spent much of WWI designing and illustrating American propaganda posters for the war efforts, he begun writing and illustrating children's books. After receiving a Caldecott Medal Honor for his work on Andy and the Lion, he would receive the Newbery Medal for his biography on Daniel Boone (simply titled Daniel Boone) the following year. Andy and the Lion has aged remarkably well and I highly recommend it. Daniel Boone has not aged nearly as well, with its constant degradation of Native Americans in order to prop up Boone's heroic narrative being the most problematic among a host of less than compassionate issues.
Availability: In Print. Copies range from $3-$14.
By Meredith Lamothe
We’re always excited about literacy here at The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire. Sure, we were thrilled that we were going to celebrate Family Literacy Month this November, but really—we focus on literacy all the time!
We recently hosted a well-attended Jumpstart To Read event; we host Books Alive! events several times a year where costumed characters bring favorite stories to life, and we have weekly Baby Storytimes as part of First Friends Playgroup, where we can teach early literacy skills to the caretakers of our youngest visitors. So a whole month dedicated to literacy? It was a no brainer!
What does family literacy month mean at CMNH?
It means that we’ll have literacy tips posted around that you can peruse as you play. We’ll have multiple activities throughout the week that highlight literacy—and how easy it is to promote and explore at home. We’ve also made up some great handouts, have several guest speakers planned, and will have weekly crafts and games in our Muse Studio—all related to literacy!
We also have our museum. Our museum is a literacy gold mine! Literacy goes so far beyond reading books. Yes, that’s an important part—but literacy, specifically family literacy, is so easy to incorporate into your daily life—or your museum visit!
When you’re playing with your kids in the submarine—make it a story. Does that story have a beginning, middle and end? DING DING DING! LITERACY ALERT! Choose a favorite color when you walk in the museum and then as you play, find that color in each of the exhibits! DING DING DING! Visit the Muse Studio and have your child explain to you the steps they’re taking in making a craft or playing with the magnet table! DING DING DING!
Any conversation, any question, any exploration can easily be made into a rewarding literacy experience. If you have questions, we’re happy to help.
We’re always excited about literacy!
About the Author: Lead Educator Meredith Lamothe has always been a book nerd, library lover and fan of acting out and telling silly stories. She has a blast hosting the Museum’s weekly First Friends Playgroup and has her Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science with a focus in Children’s Programming from Simmons College.
The illustrators from the summer 2015 Gallery 6 exhibition "Of Beauties and Beasts" answered some of our questions about their style of illustrating, from where they get their inspiration and more! The exhibit is on view in the Children's Museum of New Hampshire through Sunday, September 6.
Q. Your beasts from Ten Little Beasties are such great combinations of fangs and fur. Did the process of collage allow for some fun experimenting when creating these creatures?
A. Collage is a very forgiving art form and allows for lots of experimentation in any genre, but beasts are particularly fun! There are no limits to fangs, scales and horns!
Q. In what way have your own favorite childhood books influenced you art today?
A. One of my favorite books from my childhood was a 1932 edition of Robert Lewis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. I found it in a second hand bookstore when I was about ten years old. Second hand bookstores were favorite places for my family to visit. I was first attracted to the book by the wonderful watercolors by Juanita C. Bennett. She was not as well-known as Jessie Wilcox Smith, but I think her work rivaled that well-know artist.
Q. Your illustrations are done in “digital media” but the results look very traditional. What inspired your style of illustration?
A. I'd like to think my illustration style is still evolving! My earliest influences were Marvel comics and MAD magazine. When I started working professionally, I worked as a freelance commercial illustrator; that required me to be a chameleon, adapting my style to many different clients' needs.
When I made the transition to illustrating for children, I concentrated on traditional media like watercolor, acrylics and color pencil. I started working digitally out of necessity. Many of the projects I was working on required speed and flexibility – a digital illustration is easier to edit than an acrylic painting. My earliest digital work looked "computery," but over time I've learned to work in a manner that looks more traditional. I prefer a more traditional look because it allows me to bring in the texture, layers of color, and lively line that I developed during years of working in traditional media. But doing the work digitally allows me to work more quickly and allows for easier editing.
For most pieces, my process includes both digital and traditional techniques. For example, I might do a pencil sketch, scan it, tweak it on the computer, print it out, add shading and texture to the printout using an ink wash, scan it again, and then add color and additional texture on the computer.
Q. Your art features some truly terrifying “Beasts.” Where do you get inspiration for these monsters?
A: Ever since I was a child, I've had a passion for illustration and storytelling, and love drawing monsters and robots! I am inspired by those countless trips to the library as a child, such books by Roald Dahl, Maurice Sendak, Chris Van Allsburg, Lewis Carroll, comics such as Calvin & Hobbes, Peanuts, Disney Adventures, and from Jim Henson movies and shows like Star Trek, Invader Zim, Futurama, Dr Who, Farscape and Stargate.
Q. Your two styles of illustrating, pen and ink and acrylics, are very different from each other. Do you find that one lends itself better to portraying “beauty” or “beasts”?
A. Nearly ALL of my books were done in pen and ink, and watercolor. A few are PENCIL and watercolor. Every few years, I feel the urge to "paint," to stand at an easel and apply gobs of paint to a canvas or board. Often, this desire to paint, coincides with a book illustration project that lends itself nicely to the medium. Edward and The Pirates, for example or Farm Boy's Year. When this "convergence" happens I get out my box of acrylics and I prepare some boards with a mix of white gesso, and Burnt Umber paint. I don't like to paint on a WHITE surface. It is much too stark for me. I prefer to paint on a mid-range tone, that way I can make SOME things darker and then bring the "lights" forward. When all is ready, I begin.
Unfortunately, a three or four year gap between "painting" projects, leaves me rusty, and unsure so it takes a while to get up to speed. Sometimes, by the time the book is finished, I feel that I'm just beginning to get the hang of it! But deadlines must be met! Of the nearly 200 books that I have illustrated, fewer than ten were done with "paint."
Q. Most of your illustrations in the exhibit seem to focus on the “beauty” around us such as family, tradition, friends and even the underwater scene with the sinister looking shark is beautiful! Are there unexpected challenges when it comes to creating scenes of beauty?
A. Thank you for seeing my art in such perspective. Actually my goal of making art for children is to build connections of love, respect, curiosity and understanding between different cultures, and in large, between each individual person - us. I admit, I appreciate all the beauty around us, and perhaps that's why I naturally express how I see them in my paintings, but that is not the reason I make art. For example, the book Swimming with Sharks came to me when I didn’t understand much about sharks. After I read the manuscript, I upgraded my understanding of the universe, and how much we rely on the balance and health of the earth. I turned to passion to express my new ideal. Because I was afraid of sharks as I grew up, then I turned to respect the shark as an equal member of our living environment as a beautiful creature. When I worked on the illustrations for this project, I related these mixed feelings as I tried to communicate with my audience. If I just to create scenes of beauty, I may not have problems. But the trick is how to use beauty to educate my audience with messages so that they will accept, and that is not an easy task.
Q. For people who have never tried to illustrate a children’s book, it might seem like a simple process. But your work goes through many edits and alterations before being finalized. Do you ever find that the process is tiring or is it all a challenge you’ve come to embrace?
A. I think illustrating a picture book is a sort of marathon. It can be a long, difficult process drawing 32 pages, but the format offers an amazing opportunity to tell a visual story. I start all my books knowing that the first round of sketches will probably change dramatically by the time I start the final color artwork. I really enjoy the process of reworking and refining the imagery. Most of my books go through at least 5 rounds of sketches, some initiated by me, some initiated by the editor and art director. My experience with publishers has varied dramatically from book to book. I've had some publishers that gave me almost no feedback beyond "This looks great!", even when I knew my drawings were still far from adequate. In those cases, I've continued to work on improving the sketches on my own, until I was also happy with the results. My favorite way to work, though, is with editors and art directors who can help me hone the imagery, and who offer up creative and clever ways to improve my sketches and make the book stronger. Occasionally I don't agree with their comments (which can be frustrating) but after a day or two of stewing I can usually begin to see where they're coming from and use their ideas as a spring board to improve the illustrations. Even with criticism I think is way off base can be helpful, because it forces me to define which direction the visual story is going, and defend my choices. If I can't defend them, then the pictures really do need to be reworked! So yes, sometimes the editing process can be tiring, but over the years it's something I've come to embrace. If it leads to a better book, it's worth all the effort!
Q. You have such a fun variety of creatures in your illustrations from The Uncrossable Canyon books. I imagine your sketchbook as being filled with drawing experiments. Is the planning/sketching phase the most fun for you or do you prefer working on the final illustration?
A. The planning and sketching phase are really fun to me. For The Uncrossable Canyon series, the author had many fantastic characters written into the story who were fun to design. There were also many other characters that I was able to create myself. There is a lot of brainstorming and experimenting in the process of coming up with characters. For crowd scenes I filled them with some of my favorite animals, including my dog, my favorite monsters and dinosaurs. I even looked at sketchbooks from when I was young and redesigned some of the characters I had created years ago. I have to focus a lot during this phase as I am constantly drawing and revising the characters and also the layout of the final illustration. It’s once I have the drawing down on the final paper that I can start to relax a bit more. When I start to paint, my mind is a little more free and I can listen to music, movies or podcast. So with all this said I would say have no preference as each part of the process is unique and challenging in its own way.