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Tag Archives | Caldecott Medal

Arnold Lobel at Home

Every win­ter I find myself miss­ing Arnold Lobel, a qui­et­ly bril­liant author-illus­tra­tor who left us far too ear­ly. I pull out my Lobel I Can Read col­lec­tion. Frog and Toad Are Friends was pub­lished in 1970, the year I grad­u­at­ed from high school, bent on my own career in children’s books. Hailed an instant clas­sic by many far-see­ing indi­vid­u­als, Frog and Toad earned a Calde­cott Hon­or. My copy, the first Harp­er Tro­phy edi­tion, is from 1979. That same year I bought a set of Frog and Toad stuffed dolls because they were so ridicu­lous. Lobel remarked in an inter­view, “Their pants kept falling down in the ear­ly mock-ups, but they’ve fixed that.”

Frog and Toad dolls

Not exact­ly. My Toad doll wears what can only be called plumber’s pants. Yet amphib­ians dressed in falling-down trousers is just the sort of thing that would amuse Lobel. He drew inspi­ra­tion from fab­u­list Edward Lear. Like Lear, Arnold Lobel pos­sessed an imag­i­na­tion unfet­tered by the laws of log­ic and prob­a­bil­i­ty. The sto­ries in the Frog and Toad quar­tet are absurd, ten­der, and decep­tive­ly sim­ple. They are also per­fect. When stu­dents ask my advice on writ­ing easy read­ers, I send them to Frog and Toad. “Aim for the pin­na­cle,” I tell them.

Owl at HomeAs much as I love Frog and Toad, I’m equal­ly fond — maybe a lit­tle more so — of Owl at Home. Lobel once described Owl as “a com­plete psy­chot­ic,” but I find his char­ac­ter charm­ing­ly eccen­tric. In each of the five sto­ries, Owl is all alone. No won­der he’s a bit dif­fer­ent. In “The Guest,” Owl feels sor­ry for poor old Win­ter out in the cold and invites Win­ter into his house. Gusts of snow and wind blow wild­ly through the room. Owl learns the hard way that not all guests have man­ners.

In anoth­er sto­ry, Owl is con­cerned that the upstairs of his house is lone­ly when he is down­stairs and vice ver­sa. He races up and down the stairs, try­ing to be in two places at once. Exhaust­ed, he final­ly sits on the mid­dle step. It’s utter non­sense but the child in me loves the fact Owl wor­ries that the floor he isn’t on miss­es him. Owl makes tear-water tea by think­ing of sad things like spoons dropped behind the stove, pen­cils too short to use, and songs that can’t be sung because the words have been for­got­ten. His tears fill the ket­tle for a salty but refresh­ing tea.

Owl goes for a walk in “Owl and the Moon.” When the moon ris­es, he rea­sons that if he sees the moon, then the moon sees him, and they must be friends. On his way home, Owl notices the moon fol­low­ing. He tells the moon to go back. “You real­ly must not come home with me. My house is too small. You would not fit through the door. And I have noth­ing to give you for sup­per.” My heart turns over at Owl’s dis­tress over being unable to feed the moon. In the end, Owl real­izes the moon is shin­ing in his bed­room: “What a good, round friend you are.” This book makes me want to knock on Owl’s door and ask him to lunch.

Frog and Toad Are FriendsThe Frog and Toad books were inspired by vaca­tions on Lake Bomoseen, Ver­mont, where Lobel’s chil­dren caught frogs and toads and oth­er small ani­mals. While Frog and Toad received the most praise (Calde­cott Hon­or, New­bery Hon­or, Nation­al Book Award final­ist, Children’s Book Show­case, George G. Stone Award) and are still high­ly regard­ed, I feel Owl at Home is a sleep­er. Owl reminds me of the boy Arnold, who strug­gled to make friends.

In both writ­ing and art, Lobel hit his stride with his I Can Read books. Spot illus­tra­tions and framed vignettes in only two or three col­ors gen­tly guide new read­ers through the texts. Lobel didn’t like bright col­ors in “those lit­tle books,” as he referred to them. “In my ear­ly years I used to do bright col­ors … and I real­ly wasn’t hap­py, so I grad­u­al­ly got muter and muter and became more pleased with the aes­thet­ic result.” It has been said that his begin­ning read­ers pro­mote inti­ma­cy, safe­ty, and a sense of order. To me, they feel like home.

The ani­mal char­ac­ters in those lit­tle books dwell in cozy hous­es, with com­fy fur­ni­ture, books, and flow­ers. They tell sto­ries, read — some­times to each oth­er — take walks, gar­den, and drink tea. Lobel loved cre­at­ing books for chil­dren: “There is a lit­tle world at the end of my pen­cil.” But he wasn’t always a ray of sun­shine. His child­hood was lone­ly. He kept part of his adult life hid­den. “When I am brought low by the vicis­si­tudes of life,” he once remarked, “I stum­ble to my book­shelves. I take a lit­tle dose of Zemach or Shule­vitz. I grab a shot of Goff­stein or Mar­shall … the treat­ment works. I always feel much bet­ter.”

FablesI met Arnold Lobel once. An illus­tra­tor friend and I went to hear him speak in the fall of 1980, the year he won the Calde­cott for his pic­ture book Fables. As a pre­sen­ter, he was mod­est, fun­ny, and gen­er­ous. After the event, my friend and I head­ed for the park­ing lot when we saw Lobel walk­ing alone to his rental car. We couldn’t believe that a Calde­cott win­ner was all by him­self. My friend asked him a few ques­tions about mak­ing pic­ture books, which he answered hon­est­ly. I stayed qui­et. It was enough to stand next to the man who brought Frog and Toad and Owl and oth­er char­ac­ters into my world.

In the win­ter of 1987, Arnold Lobel died at age 54, one of the first in the children’s book com­mu­ni­ty to fall vic­tim to AIDS. He once said in a speech, “To be mak­ing books for chil­dren is to be in a sort of state of grace.” I try to remem­ber those words when I’m feel­ing less than char­i­ta­ble toward the indus­try that’s been my home for near­ly 40 years. When I’m brought low by the vicis­si­tudes of life, I vis­it Frog and Toad, Owl, Grasshop­per, and Uncle Ele­phant. Lobel’s treat­ment works. I always feel wel­come.  

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That Lovely Ornament, the Moon

by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root

Jack­ie: We’ve passed the Sol­stice but we still have more night than day. We can watch the moon with our break­fast and with our din­ner. We thought we’d cel­e­brate this sea­son of the moon by shar­ing some sto­ries fea­tur­ing that love­ly orna­ment.

Phyl­lis: And Christ­mas Eve we saw an almost full moon cast­ing shad­ows on the snow before the clouds blew in. Moon­light real­ly is mag­i­cal.

Papa Please Get the Moon For MeJack­ie: There’s love­ly mag­ic in Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Car­le. This book has been a favorite of mine since my days as a preschool teacher. It nev­er fails to please the sit-on-the-rug crowd. What’s not to love? There’s Eric Carle’s won­der­ful moon, and a father so ded­i­cat­ed that he finds a “very long lad­der” and takes it to “a very high moun­tain.” Then he climbs to the moon and waits until it’s just the right size. He brings it back and gives it to his daugh­ter. She hugs it, jumps and dances with it — until it dis­ap­pears.

The com­bi­na­tion of fan­ta­sy and real-moon, fam­i­ly affec­tion and joy is just time­less. This thir­ty year old sto­ry could have been writ­ten yes­ter­day.

Kitten's First Full MoonPhyl­lis: In Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes, Kit­ten, too, yearns for the moon, mis­tak­ing it for a bowl of milk. “And she want­ed it.” Clos­ing her eyes and lick­ing toward the moon only gives her a bug on her tongue, jump­ing at the moon ends in a tum­ble, and chas­ing the moon ends with Kit­ten up a tree and the moon no clos­er. After each attempt, the text reminds us of Kitten’s yearn­ing: “Still, there was the lit­tle bowl of milk, just wait­ing.” When Kit­ten sees the moon’s reflec­tion in the pond and leaps for it, she ends up tired, sad, and wet. Poor kit­ten! She returns home… to find a big bowl of milk on the porch, just wait­ing for her to lap it up.

Thirteen Moons on Turtle's BackJack­ie: Kit­tens and chil­dren and all of us are fas­ci­nat­ed by the moon. Thir­teen Moons on Turtle’s Back: a Native Amer­i­can Year of Moons (Pen­guin, 1992) by Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan Lon­don is a col­lec­tion of thir­teen poems about the sea­sons of the moon from “each of the thir­teen Native Amer­i­can trib­al nations in dif­fer­ent regions of the con­ti­nent [cho­sen] to give a wider sense of the many things Native Amer­i­can peo­ple have been taught to notice in this beau­ti­ful world around us.” The notic­ing is one thing I love about this book. Read­ing these poems makes me want to walk in the woods and see some­thing in a new way.

Moon of Popping TreesIt feels as if we are in the sea­son of the “Moon of Pop­ping Trees.”

Out­side the lodge
the night air is bit­ter cold.
Now the Frost giant walks
with his club in his hand.
When he strikes the trunks
of the cot­ton­wood trees
we hear them crack
beneath the blow.
The peo­ple hide inside
when they hear that sound….

And that is much bet­ter than say­ing, “it’s cold.”

Phyl­lis: In “Baby Bear Moon” we learn how a small child lost in the snow was saved by sleep­ing all through the win­ter with a moth­er bear and her cubs. The poem con­cludes:

when we walk by on our snow­shoes
we will not both­er a bear
or her babies. Instead
we think how those small bears
are like our chil­dren.
We let them dream togeth­er.”

Who wouldn’t want to sleep the win­ter away shar­ing dreams with bears?

Jack­ie: I love the poet­ry of this book—

…Earth Elder
made the first tree,
a great oak with twelve branch­es
arch­ing over the land.
Then, sit­ting down beneath it,
the sun shin­ing bright,
Earth Elder thought
of food for the peo­ple,
and acorns began to form.”

Per­haps the best is that Bruchac and Lon­don encour­age us to see more than trees and grass, to imag­ine a land­scape, a thrum­ming with his­to­ry, com­mu­ni­ty, and the spir­its of shar­ing.

MoonlightJack­ie: Moon­light by Helen V. Grif­fith (Green­wil­low, 2012) is also a poet­ic text — and spare:

Rab­bit hides in shad­ow
under cloudy skies
wait­ing for the moon­light
blink­ing sleepy eyes.

But he goes into his bur­row and doesn’t see “Moon­light slides like butter/skims through out­er space/skids past stars and comets/leaves a but­ter trace.”

What a won­der­ful image! “Moon­light slides like but­ter.” Who can look at moon­light the same again?

Phyl­lis: I love the spare lan­guage of this book, and I love Lau­ra Dronzek’s lumi­nous art as well, where moon­light real­ly does but­ter every tree and slips into Rabbit’s dreams, awak­ing him to dance in the moon­light. So few words, but so well cho­sen — verbs such as skims and skids and skips and skit­ters. A won­der­ful pair­ing of words and art that makes me want to dance in the moon­light, too.

Owl MoonJane Yolen’s Owl Moon, which won a Calde­cott for its evoca­tive win­try art, is a sto­ry of an owl, patience, hope, and love. On a snowy night the nar­ra­tor sets out to go on a long-await­ed out­ing owl­ing with Pa. She knows, because Pa says, that when you go owl­ing you have to be qui­et, you have to make your own heat, and you have to have hope. Their hope is final­ly reward­ed when they spot an owl and stare into the owl’s eyes as it stare back before it flies away. The last image shows the small nar­ra­tor being car­ried toward the lights of home by her pa. The book con­cludes:

When you go owl­ing
you don’t need words
or warm
or any­thing but hope.
That’s what Pa says.
The kind of hope
that flies
on silent wings
under a shin­ing
Owl Moon.

Jack­ie: “When you go owling/you don’t need words/or warm/ or any­thing but hope.” The shin­ing moon, a light in the night, a lamp of hope that we turn into a friend in the sky. These books make me grate­ful for long nights.

Phyl­lis: And for moon­light and dreams and danc­ing.

 

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Authors Emeritus: Virginia Lee Burton

ph_VirginiaLeeBurtonVir­ginia Lee Bur­ton was born on August 30, 1909 in New­ton Cen­tre, Mass­a­chu­setts. She stud­ied art at the Cal­i­for­nia School of Fine Arts and the Boston Muse­um School. One of her ear­li­est jobs was as a “sketch­er” for the arts sec­tion of the Boston Tran­script.

She mar­ried George Demetrios, a sculp­tor and her teacher at the Muse­um School, in 1931. They set­tled in Glouces­ter, Mass­a­chu­setts, where they had two sons. “I lit­er­al­ly draw my books first and write down the text after “I pin the sketched pages in sequence on the walls of my stu­dio so I can see the books as a whole. Then I make a rough dum­my and then the final draw­ings, and at last when I can put it off no longer, I type out the text and paste it in the bk_mikedum­my.”

Thir­teen pub­lish­ers reject­ed her first man­u­script about a dust par­ti­cle, Jonif­fer Lint. When her three-year-old son fell asleep on her lap while she read it to him, she stopped send­ing it to pub­lish­ers, and there­after relied on chil­dren as her pri­ma­ry crit­ics.

Her clas­sic books have nev­er been out of print and are cur­rent­ly embraced by a fourth gen­er­a­tion of ear­ly read­ers. She won the 1942 Calde­cott Medal for The Lit­tle House. Vir­ginia Lee Bur­ton died Octo­ber 15, 1968.

For more infor­ma­tion on the author, her books, and her design work, please vis­it Vir­ginia Lee Bur­ton, The Film.

 

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I Would Like to Thank…

The annu­al meet­ing of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion begins this week. The win­ners of the var­i­ous book awards are no doubt eye­ing the fes­tiv­i­ties with some trep­i­da­tion because they will be pre­sent­ing speech­es. This has been going on since the first New­bery Award was pre­sent­ed in 1922. Tra­di­tion­al­ly called “Accep­tance Papers,” the speech­es are the bul­l’s-eye of events that have over the years mor­phed from nice lit­tle white-glove lun­cheons into galas.

The Bookol­o­gist has been por­ing over the papers from the first 50+ years of the New­bery and Calde­cott awards* and thought, in cel­e­bra­tion of the speechi­fy­ing that will soon be going on in San Fran­cis­co, to share some snip­pets from speech­es past. Enjoy.

 

*Sources:

Mahoney, Bertha Miller, and Eli­nor Whit­ney Field, eds. New­bery Medal Books, 1922 – 1955, with Their Author’s Accep­tance Papers & Relat­ed Mate­r­i­al Chiefly from the Horn Book Mag­a­zine. Boston: Horn Book, 1955. Print.

Mahoney, Bertha Miller, and Eli­nor Whit­ney Field, eds. Calde­cott medal books, 1938 – 1957, with the Artist’s Accep­tance Papers & Relat­ed Mate­r­i­al Chiefly from the Horn Book Mag­a­zine. Boston: Horn Book, 1957. Print.

King­man, Lee, ed. New­bery and Calde­cott medal books, 1956 – 1965: with accep­tance papers, biogra­phies, and relat­ed mate­r­i­al chiefly from the Horn book mag­a­zine. Boston: Horn Book, 1965. Print.

King­man, Lee, ed. New­bery and Calde­cott medal books, 1966 – 1975: with accep­tance papers, biogra­phies, and relat­ed mate­r­i­al chiefly from the Horn book mag­a­zine. Boston: Horn Book, 1975. Print.

 

 

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Chapter & Verse picks the winners … or not

In CLN’s Chap­ter & Verse, with six of our book­stores report­ing, we had no clear win­ners for our mock Calde­cott, New­bery, and Printz Awards. Steve and I have vis­it­ed many of these loca­tions, talk­ing with the book club mem­bers. Each book club has its own char­ac­ter. The mem­bers bring dif­fer­ent life expe­ri­ences, dif­fer­ent read­ing pref­er­ences, and dif­fer­ent pro­fes­sion­al lives to Chap­ter & Verse.… more
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