Mock Caldecott, 2014: Manhattan, Kansas edition

Just back from our Mock Caldecott, held today at the Manhattan [Kansas] Public Library, and again organized by KSU’s Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (special thanks to Allison Kuehne and Becca Rowe!). In anticipation of the Caldecott Awards (held in January), we spent a few hours looking at and discussing what may or may not be the best American picture books of year.  That is, we try to look at the best, but we can’t always get everything we need in time.  (For example, omitted this year were Sergio Ruzzier’s A Letter for Leo and Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash’s Bow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors — both books that I expect other Mock Caldecott groups, and the Caldecott Committee itself, are looking at.)  The process is imperfect, but it’s still fun to spend the afternoon looking at picture books, and debating their merits!

The Winner:

Marla Frazee, The Farmer and the Clown 

Marla Frazee, The Farmer and the Clown (2014)

Wordless tale of an unlikely friendship. In well-designed, dynamic layouts, Frazee‘s book tells the story of a young clown who falls off the train of a traveling circus, and gets adopted by a farmer.  The friendship that develops between the unlikely pair touched our group this afternoon, as did the unexpected resolution of the tale.  (I don’t want to give anything away here….)

The Honor Books:

We had quite a few honor books.  Here they are, in the order of how many votes they received.

Dan Santat, The Adventures of Beekle, The Unimaginary Friend (2014)Dan Santat, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

Where do imaginary friends come from? And what if some imaginary friends fail to get imagined by children? In answer to both questions, Dan Santat has Beekle — an imaginary friend — set off in search of a young human who will befriend him. A book that bears a bit of influence from Shaun Tan (especially The Lost Thing), The Adventures of Beekle is already in Emily’s Library.  (Coming later this week: a new installment in my attempt to build for my niece the “ideal” children’s library.)

The next two books were tied with the same number of votes each.

Kadir Nelson, Baby Bear (2014)Kadir Nelson, Baby Bear

In his hyperreal artistic style, Nelson paints an animal story that is at once an adventure of a lost bear trying to get home, and a philosophical meditation on how we find our place in the world. It’s a different kind of book for Nelson (I don’t think he’s done other animal books), and he does it very well.  Sustained by its striking artwork and compelling child surrogate (baby bear, of course!), this beautiful book is also already in Emily’s Library.

Mike Curato, Little Elliot, Big CityMike Curato, Little Elliot, Big City

With illustrations that really draw you in, Curato‘s tale of a small cupcake-loving polka-dotted elephant (Elliot) has heart. I think, too, that its treatment of the central character’s height will resonate with younger readers: to be a child is to exist in a world designed for giants, where everything is too large, too long, or out of reach. Curato captures that experience well. It’s sweet without being pat — and that’s a delicate balance to achieve.  It’s a future addition to Emily’s Library.  (I hadn’t seen it until today.)

J. Patrick Lewis and Gary Kelley, Harlem Hellfighters (2014)J. Patrick Lewis and Gary Kelley, Harlem Hellfighters

Also a book I encountered for the first time this afternoon, Harlem Hellfighters was my top pick of the 25 we looked at today. In spare, poetic text, and striking images, the book tells the story of the most decorated African American combat unit to serve in the First World War.  With a great use of comics layout, and words both suggestive and specific, it does the impossible job of conveying historical detail and nuance all within the confines of a picture book.  It shows how the same group of people who were being lynched here in the U.S. were serving abroad with valor and distinction — juxtaposing their European heroism with American lynchings. And, though it has a strong moral message, Lewis and Kelley convey that without moralizing. Probably not a book for the youngest readers, Harlem Hellfighters should be required reading for American children of 7 and up in the Ferguson Era. (I don’t know if we have a term for the legal murder of people of color, as practiced in contemporary America — so, I’m using “Ferguson Era” as shorthand.)

Kate Samworth, Aviary Wonders, Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual (2014)Kate Samworth, Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual

This one — the last of our Honor Books — blew me away, and was also on my short list. I’d read about it before today, but had never actually seen it.  In the guise of a catalogue for the (fictional) Aviary Wonders Inc., Samworth teaches us about anatomy, flight, and extinction. With a dark sense of humor and design evocative of both contemporary catalogues and nineteenth-century science, Aviary Wonders Inc. tells the sad story of our loss of biodiversity. In offering instructions for how to make birds, Samworth commemorates those species that humans have destroyed. If this sounds impossible to you, then all I can say is check it out. It sounds impossible to me, too — only because I’ve read Samworth’s book can I report that it’s not only possible but a remarkable achievement.  One of the year’s best picture books.

What are your favorite picture books from 2014?  (Though the Caldecott recognizes excellence in American picture books, there’s no need to restrict yourself to ones from the U.S.)

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Comic-Con 2014: San Diego, July 25

And… my third report from Comic-Con!  (A little later than I’d planned because I didn’t get back from the Eisners until around 11 that night… and I’ve gotta sleep, too, ya know!)

Strange Currencies

Barnaby Volumes One and Two, at Comic-Con!

While doing my morning “signing” at the Fantagraphics display, I had an interesting conversation with a woman passing by the booth (her name escapes me, though I believe that I have met her before).  We were talking about the crazy-long lines of fans, queueing up to get free goodies or cheap(er) limited-edition items.  I expressed my bafflement at the long line of folks waiting for a free Lego figurine (I assume) on Wednesday evening. She said, yes, they’ll have a limited-edition Lego figurine, and people will then sell that on eBay for $80.  Some people even take pre-orders.  She told me that last year, her son bought a special-edition something (I forget what) for $300, turned around and sold it for $600.

As the half-dozen homeless people I pass on my way to and from Comic-Con remind me, it’s hard to get by in America.  I’m not sure how much these Comic-Con entrepreneurs depend upon this income, and it certainly doesn’t appeal to me as a vocation / avocation. But, well, these folks have found a way to shave off a little from the entertainment industrial complex.  And that’s something, isn’t it?


Program Line Crossing

From the “signing,” it was off to the Eisner panel! Almost. Got held up during a program line crossing. For the panels with masses of people lining up to get in, the lines snake up and down, around the building, and on and on.  So,… when they finally get to enter, that’s a long line of traffic. Comic-Con volunteers act as traffic cops, and ask us to wait while the maddening crowds pass us by.

Program Line Crossing


Will Eisner, Teacher and Mentor

Paul Levitz, Joe Quesada, Batton Lash, Drew Friedman, Mike Carlin

Missed the first ten minutes of this, but what I heard of it was great — lots of anecdotes and insights, expertly moderated by Paul Levitz.  The program’s panel description gives you a good idea of what to expect and (in this case) what the panelists delivered:

For a magic moment, New York City’s School of Visual Arts had Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, and Art Spiegelman all teaching classes on comics. Hear stories about those classes from students Joe Quesada (Marvel Entertainment), Drew Friedman (Heroes of the Comics), Batton Lash (Supernatural Law), Mike Carlin (DC Entertainment), and a surprise guest. Plus a not-to-be missed discussion about Will Eisner’s other educational efforts. Moderated by Paul Levitz, who is writing Will Eisner: Champion of the Graphic Novel for release next year by Abrams ComicArts.

Drew Friedman observed that there should be a book about teaching in that period — when Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Art Spiegelman were teaching. (I agree!)

Paul Levitz said, “Jack Kirby could start a drawing anywhere. You could say ‘Draw Captain America, but begin with his elbow.’”  Either he or one of the other panelists said it was as if Kirby had the whole thing in his head and could just start anywhere.

Joe Quesada told us “Watching a professional work can be a mind-altering experience.” He also confided, “I did not go to SVA to be a cartoonist.  I went to be an illustrator.  I wanted to be Norman Rockwell.”

The panelists had a lot to say about how what they learned from these great teachers.

Mike Carlin, for example, learned what not to do: “The way Harvey [Kurtzman] did it was 16 drawings of the same thing over and over again. That taught me never to work that way, or to encourage anyone else to work that way.”

Paul Levitz: Let’s talk about Will, and about the business of being an artist.

Drew Friedman: He was very particular about the artist being in charge of his own fate.  … All three of those guys — — were very particular about the artist being in charge…. Will used to say “Always draw the balloons first.”  I never do that.  I always draw them last.

Batton Lash: Will didn’t like bridges between word balloons.  And then, in Harvey’s class, “You know, you could connect these balloons.”

Mike Carlin: Did Will and Harvey ever hang out?

Batton: Once we invited them out, and they came and that was the only time I saw them together — and [they were] bombed.

Mike Carlin recalled these teachers bringing in guest stars, like R. Crumb. And Terry Gilliam.

Will Eisner, Comics and Sequential ArtBatton Lash remembered an incident, when one of the guest-speakers in Will Eisner’s class said that the comics industry was dying. It was 1973, there was an energy crisis, a paper shortage — if you look at comics from that era, they’re printed on cheap tissue paper, etc.  After the guest speaker left, Eisner said, “I’ve seen the comics industry die 3 times already.” And then he launched into a pep talk.  In fact, Lash says, “the last time I saw Will, he was on one of these industry panels, and he said, ‘I’ve seen the industry die 5 times already.’”

Joe Quesada said that he isn’t nostalgic for Comic-Cons of yore. Says it’s a good time to be in comics. Mike Carlin adds, “20 years ago, this is what we wanted. We wanted our work to be taken seriously. And now it is.”

Paul Levitz asks Drew Friedman about his work, his focus on the past — new book is on old cartoonists. Friedman answers: “I just like drawing old Jews.” (Befitting the man who wrote Old Jewish Comedians, Friedman is great with the one-liners.)

Will Eisner, A Contract with God (1978)Paul Levitz observed: “He [Will Eisner] was one of a few artists who had a philosophy about what he was doing.” And “His art was about storytelling. And whatever the media was to do it, he would do it.” In other words, Eisner wouldn’t be intimidated by different technologies.

And, here’s one final exchange between Mike Carlin and Drew Friedman…

Mike Carlin: Contract with God came out when we were in school there. I remember because he brought them in and sold them to us.

Drew Friedman: He gave me mine.


Moving Forward by Looking Back: This Is the Golden Age of Comics Collections

Moving_Forward_title_slide_web

President of IDW Publishing Greg Goldstein organized this panel, featuring Dean Mullaney (representing the IDW imprint Library of American Comics), Scott Dunbier (IDW’s senior editor of special projects), and other publishers who are not part of IDW: Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics, my co-editor on the Barnaby series), Peter Maresca (Sunday Press), Michael Martens (VP of book trade sales at Dark Horse Comics), and Craig Yoe (Yoe Books).  Here is everyone, in the order mentioned above.

Greg Goldstein, Dean Mullaney, Scott Dunbier, Eric Reynolds, Peter Maresca, Michael Martens, and Craig Yoe

After spending 10 minutes introducing people, Greg Goldstein asked the panelists how they got into the reprint business.  People addressed that question, including the benefits of modern technology.  As Dean Mullaney said of using Photoshop (versus how they used to do reprints), “We can do so much more and better work.” Comics were poorly printed, the colors were off-register — and now you can fix this.

Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts 1950-1952Goldstein noted that Fantagraphics’ decision to publish the Complete Peanuts is a lifetime commitment. Eric Reynolds said that “The idea for the Complete Peanuts had been floating around for a while….. We’d done other reprints — Pogo, Prince Valiant…. And Peanuts was always the holy grail.”  This is what got the ball rolling: “Gary Groth got to interview Schulz for The Comics Journal.  So Gary got to go down to Santa Rosa, to interview him.  After that, they maintained a friendly correspondence.  And Gary asked him.”

Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts 1953-1954According to Eric, Schulz’s sincere reaction was: “Who would want to read that?” And after that, “he was resistant — because he was a very humble guy.  Anyway, Gary could be persuasive and persistent, and after a short time, Schulz gave his blesssing. He said you have to cut through the red tape, but you can do it. Then, however, Schulz died.  Jeannie Schulz stepped in, said “I’ll help you.  I’ll make this happen.” She said “I’ll push this through,” and the rest is history.

Greg Goldstein asked Michael Martens about “volume fatigue.”  Martens said that you do see the sales dropping off as you get into higher numbers of a volume. But he has seen more acceptance of these projects. In terms of the decision to publish a series, he said, “Internally, a lot of our conversations were: ‘How do we make people want the book? How do we make them want the object?’ Essentially, the book as a fetish object.”

Craig Yoe actually doesn’t want to clean up the old strips. As he said, “I heard some talk this morning about the old comics were poorly printed and off-register. And… you say that like it’s a bad thing? … I like that look.”

Geo. Herriman, Baron Bean

As the discussion unfolded, some of the reprints scrolled by on the PowerPoint, including:

  • Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby Volume One (hurrah!)
  • Walt Kelly’s PogoGustave Verbeek's Upside-Down World
  • Gustave Verbeek’s Upside-Down World
  • George Herriman’s Baron Bean
  • Mad Archives Vol. 1
  • E.C. Segar’s Popeye
  • Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo: So Many Splendid Sundays!

Eric Reynolds noted that “Reprints are very expensive, and the profit margins are often very small — even more so than the first one… It’s all about managing your list.”

Michael Martens spoke of wanting to do a reprint of Lassie strips, and proposal getting shut down. Craig Yoe noted, “We all have our Lassies.”

Goldstein summed it up nicely when he said, “With these reprints, the goal is not to make a lot of money. The goal is not to lose money.”

Great question from audience for Peter Maresca, whose Sunday Press has reprinted Little Nemo in the exact size it was originally printed. Audience member asked: “Where are you supposed to put your books? They don’t fit on any bookshelf.”

Maresca’s answer: “Slide them under the sofa. Bring them out every Sunday, and read them.”


CBLDF: Dr. Wertham’s War on Comics

In a dynamic, well-illustrated presentation, Carol Tilley showed us the most absurd and most damning facts about Fredric Wertham’s anti-comics crusade. Specifically, Wertham faked his facts. He falsified his “evidence,” and twisted the stories of his subjects. In so doing, he not only made flawed arguments but lacked the professional ethics required of a researcher.

She began with a letter to Dr. Wertham from a child — Lynn Crawford of Atlanta, Georgia. Ms. Crawford wrote, “Those children you spoke of were delinquent before they ever read a comic book. I have 25 friends and we all read the same kinds of comic books, and they won’t make us delinquent.”

Wertham Seduction! (slide from Carol Tilley's presentation)

Another slide from Carol Tilley's presentation

Here are some of the comics Wertham didn’t like:

Some comics Wertham didn't like.

Wertham, Tilley told us, made up and misconstrued some of his evidence against comics.  He altered kids’ words or knitted together their words in different ways.  He altered key details about the children, too.

Vivian was 13, not 12. She was African-American. Her report card was excellent. We learn that her mother was actually her stepmother, and had revoked Vivian’s allowance. In fact, her mother confirmed that Vivian was more enthralled by television. In the slide below, Tilley shows some of the bits that Wertham invented — those parts are in red and struck through.

Another slide from Carol Tilley's talk.

A few more interesting facts:

  • Published April 1954, Seduction of the Innocent sold more than 16,000 copies within a few months of its publication.
  • During the period of Wertham, sales of comic books outstripped slaes of children’s books from 5 to 1.
  • In the 1950s there were more people reading comics than people playing video games today.
  • The code, however, led to fewer kids reading comics, fewer comics readers.  It also, of course, made underground comics possible — though, Tilley cautioned, “that’s me, trying to find the silver lining.”
  • Speaking of silver linings, Tilley quoted Carl Barks alleging this: “I believe that the infamous book by Dr. Wertham is what saved comics from senseless horror.” Tilley doesn’t concur, exactly. Nor do I. But it is an interesting (if not entirely persuasive) counter-argument, I suppose.

Anyway, ’twas a panel well-worth attending. If you’re looking for a speaker on this subject, invite Professor Tilley!


LGBT Comics for Young Readers

“We want to break down that line that says ‘gay equals adult.’”

— J.P. [Jade Prince]

P. Kristen Enos (Active Voice, Creatures of Grace), J.P. [Jade Prince] & Dusty Jack (Mahou Shounen Fight!), Grace Ellis (Lumberjanes), Brian Andersen (So Super Duper), Elizabeth Watasin (Charm School), Robert Paul (Little Rainbow Comics), Charles "Zan" Christensen (Northwest Press, The Power Within), Dan Parent (Kevin Keller, Archie Comics)

The panelists (L to R): P. Kristen Enos (Active Voice, Creatures of Grace), J.P. [Jade Prince] & Dusty Jack (Mahou Shounen Fight!), Grace Ellis (Lumberjanes), Brian Andersen (So Super Duper), Elizabeth Watasin (Charm School), Robert Paul (Little Rainbow Comics), Charles “Zan” Christensen (Northwest Press, The Power Within), Dan Parent (Kevin Keller, Archie Comics).

I attended this panel because as an educator, I want to be able to introduce my Children’s Literature students to good LGBT fiction. This panel offered a fantastic resource because, well, to quote from the panel description, “Comics today present an amazing range of stories and characters, including more LGBT stories and characters than ever before. Since comics appeal to young and old alike, how do creators use the medium to present LGBT content and characters for younger audiences? What comics are out there for teens and younger readers? How can parents, librarians, and educators introduce such books to young people?”

J.P. summed up the point of this panel when, addressing the shared subject of writing LGBTQ-friendly comics for young readers she said: “We want to break down that line that says ‘gay equals adult.’”  That’s exactly it.

Mahou Shounen Fight!, Chapter OneJ.P. & Dusty’s Mahou Shounen Fight!  Dusty describes this as “doing a version of the magical girl genre (Sailor Moon) but with boys.” J.P. adds, that they “Started the comic to play with expectations. As it evolved, so did the characters, and none are 100% percent heteroseuxal.” Dusty again: “We wanted to create a story that had a rainbow in terms of representation, in every sense of the word — gender, gender expression, sexuality, race, ethnicity. So young people can see themselves in it, no matter who they are.”

Series is on the web, but issues are also available for purchase.

The LumberjanesGrace Ellis’ Lumberjanes (Boom Comics) is about 5 best-friend female characters, 2 of whom are in a relationship. As she puts it, “It’s a story about friends. It’s a story about bad-ass girls.” In one of the issues, the girls visit the boys camp, the head counselor of which is “a physical manifestation of the patriarchy” — but his point of view is presented as unappealing. The boys at this camp are more into baking cookies and hanging out indoors, and the girls (the Lumberjanes) go out and fight monsters. As Ellis says, “If the Lumberjanes are super bad-ass in a traditionally masculine way, the guys are bad-ass in a traditionally feminine way.”  You can buy it from Boom Comics.

Brian Andersen’s So Super Duper and Rainbow & Diva.  The premise of Andersen’s work is that his protagonists are gay, readers know this, but protagonists do not. Discussing Rainbow & Diva (about a spy duo), he said that instead of super-hetero guy who beats people up, “I wanted a super-flamey gay guy who also beats people up.”

Elizabeth Watasin’s Charm School is one of the only titles at this panel that I actually knew.  I have the first issue of this.  I wondered if it continued, but was busy & never had a chance to follow up on it. What’s it about? Watasin compares Charm School to an Archie comic, explaining that it’s “a very fun love triangle set in Little Salem, with vampires and hot rods and malt shops.”

Robert Paul’s Little Rainbow Comics is about 1st-graders who are more articulate than 1st-graders, but are still children. He invokes Stewie on Family Guy as a point of comparison. Since I’m not much of a Seth McFarland fan, I would invoke Peanuts or Calvin & Hobbes. The comic is on the web and available as a book.

David Kelly, Rainy Day RecessDavid Kelly’s Rainy Day Recess. Kelly himself wasn’t on the panel, but Northwest Press publisher Zan Christensen was. I picked up a copy at the Prism Booth. Here’s a blurb (on the back cover) from Alison Bechdel: “David Kelly captures the solitude and magic of queer childhood with an eerie realness. The detritus of seventies pop culture that generously litters his panels adds deliciously to the bittersweet mood.”  The book collects Kelly’s strips from 1995 to 1998.

Zan Christiansen’s The Power Within started as a 24-hour comic-book-day comic, back in the fall of 2010 with all the gay suicide attempts, and suicides. As Christensen says, “All we could think about is how do we make kids feel better? How do we help them?” You can get the book here.

Dan Parent’s Kevin Keller stories.  Parent, who has has been with Archie comics for 27 years, created Kevin Keller, the first openly gay character in Archie.  Parent talked about George Takei’s celebrity cameo — or, really, storyline in one Kevin Keller narrative.  Takei grew up reading Archie comics when he was in an internment camp.


Pogo: A Celebration of Walt Kelly’s 101st Birthday

Mark Evanier, Carolyn Kelly, Leonard Maltin, Maggie Thompson, Jeff Smith's empty chair, David Silverman, Willie Ito

Moderator Mark Evanier (Groo the Wanderer) said that they had such a good time celebrating Walt Kelly’s 100th birthday last year that they wanted do it again. Indeed, “If they keep letting us do this, we’ll do Walt Kelly’s 102nd birthday, 103rd birthday, 104th birthday… until he comes back.”

Spotting Willie Ito in the audience, Evanier invited him up to join the panel — Ito drew Pogo in Walt’s later years when his health was failing. So, above, you see (left to right): Mark Evanier, Carolyn Kelly (co-editor of the Complete Pogo series and Walt’s daughter), Leonard Maltin (the film critic), Maggie Thompson (Comics Buyer’s Guide), Jeff Smith’s empty chair, David Silverman (The Simpsons), and Ito.

Discussing Pogo‘s influence on him David Silverman said, “I was drawing since I was 4. My father read us Pogo. So, at 5 years old, he’s reading me Pogo. And I’m not really understanding a lot of it.  But I really took to the style of it, and the drawing. It made me want to become a cartoonist.” If his parents had hoped he wouldn’t become a cartoonist, they shouldn’t have read him Pogo.

Jeff Smith arrives!

Mark Evanier, Carolyn Kelly, Leonard Maltin, Maggie Thompson, Jeff Smith, David Silverman, Willie Ito

Willie Ito spoke of working on Pogo:

Walt took ill and was unable to complete his commitment. So, Walt figured that Don Morgan is the only one capable of following through. But then Don came to me, and said I just promised my son Ethan we’re going to go off to the woods for a vacation, and I can’t break his heart. So, can you help me out? So, can you help me out with two weeks of days?

Ito thought he’d have to use a brush, as Walt did — but he didn’t have time to practice with a brush.  So, he used his Pentel pen, instead.  So, Ito continues, “And I thought I did a passable job. And I guess Don was able to pass it off. But a few years later, I learned that Shelby was really annoyed, and said ‘It looks like it was done by some Japanese artist in Japan.’ And I said, ‘Well, she’s half-right.’”

Silverman says he “Learned how to create subtlety of expressions from Kelly.”  At one point, Jeff Smith said he loved “the brushwork when Kelly flubs it” — and he mimed a hasty scribble with his hand here — “and still makes it look good.”

Smith also recalled the first time he saw Kelly’s work: “I encountered Walt Kelly on a playground because some little girl gave me a copy of of [Pogo in] Pandemonium. It was very fantasy-based. When I look back on it, I realize that’s why Bone veers off in that direction. Every time I think I’m getting this comic book game down, and then I look at Pogo and start banging my head….’

Silverman said that “Thanks to Walt Kelly, I always thought ‘Weehawken’ was an exclamation of joy, and not a city in New Jersey… I keep trying to edit the Wikipedia page, and they won’t let me….”

Maggie Thompson told the story of Kelly’s plans for a sci-fi strip that would be satirical.  But the Korean War broke out, and the syndicate said just keep it funny — no other commentary.  So, as a result, this political commentary comes into the Pogo strips instead.

Near the end of the panel, they invited Eric Reynolds up to join them because he had a dummy of the next Pogo volume.

 Eric Reynolds, Carolyn Kelly, Leonard Maltin


Lou Ferrigno

And, just because, here is Lou Ferrigno, who played the Incredible Hulk on the TV series (1978-1982).

Lou Ferrigno


Eisner Awards

Attended my second Eisner Awards because I was again a nominee this year.

And, yes, I also tweeted a little while I was there.

Matthew Inman won “Best Digital Comic” for The Oatmeal.

Faith Erin Hicks won “Best Publication for Kids” for The Adventures of Superhero Girl. She was so moved by having won the award that she teared up a bit as she was thanking people. It was very sweet. I love this book. And, for the record, the other books in this category (well, the ones I know, anyway) are great: Luke Pearson’s Hilda and the Bird Parade, and Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault’s Jane the Fox and Me.

“Best Scholarly/Academic Work” (the category in which I was nominated and lost last year) went to Sheena C. Howard and Ronald L. Jackson II’s Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation, which — incidentally — is the only one of the nominated books that I actually have a copy of. (Yes, I need to get some of the others, I know….)

And… the category we’ve all been waiting for… “Best Archival Collection/Project — Comic Strips”… goes to…

Ah, well.  To be honest, I had no idea how to even weigh the odds (I mean, apart from the fact that Eric Reynolds and I had a 1 in 6 chance for Barnaby — since there were five other nominees). But, as Charlie Brown says (after yet another catastrophically bad season in little league), “Just wait until next year!” No, no — I’m kidding. Truly, it’s nice just to be nominated. Also, I think “two-time Eisner loser” is a funnier accolade. Unless you’re Jaime Hernandez, who after I-have-no-idea-how-many-times of being nominated and losing finally won!!! Which is awesome.

Jaime Hernandez wins Eisner

Gilbert Hernandez won tonight, too.  This is great news!

Gilbert Hernandez wins Eisner for "Untitled" (in Love and Rockets New Stories #6)

Jeff Smith won his 12th Eisner.  OK, it might not be 12th.  It might be more.  (I’m not sure how many Eisners he’s won, but it’s an impressive number!)  This year, he won for RASL.  Also, and I don’t think this can be said often enough: Jeff Smith is such a nice guy. (His success has not gone to his head!)

Jeff Smith wins Eisner Award for RASL


Goodnight, fans everywhere.

Fans camp out at Comic-Con. No, I don't know what special event they're hoping to get in to.

Goodnight, lines. Goodnight, crowds.  Goodnight, fans sleeping on the sidewalk.


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Mock Caldecott 2013: Manhattan, Kansas Edition

Time again for the Mock Caldecott Awards, at which we convene not to mock Caldecott-winners, but to predict what the winners will be.  This year, we’re of course predicting the 2014 awards, which will be announced next month. A big thanks to Kansas State University’s Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (especially Allison Kuehne and Melissa Hammond) for organizing this event, and to the Manhattan Public Library for hosting it.

The Winner:

Aaron Becker, Journey (2013)Aaron Becker, Journey

An homage to Crockett Johnson‘s Harold and the Purple Crayon and (as some of my colleagues pointed out today) to David Wiesner‘s work, Aaron Becker‘s Journey invites us to travel along the line of our imaginations, transporting us into a world of Miyazaki-esque wonder.  According to our votes, it was the winner by a good margin.  My own opinion is that I’d be surprised if the Caldecott committee failed to grant this at the very least an Honor.

The Honor Books:

Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons QuitOliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons Quit (text by Drew Daywalt).

As one of our group observed today, the Caldecott is about telling a story through pictures, and in this book the tools of art are our narrators.  They write letters of protest to their owner, citing misuse (often overuse), and seek redress.  Spoiler alert: By the end of the tale, the child artist hears their grievances, and finds a new way of using color in his work.  Like the above book, Jeffers and Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit is also a meditation on the artist’s process.  Only this one is funnier.

Molly Idle, Flora and the FlamingoMolly Idle, Flora and the Flamingo

With beautifully expressive drawings, a line as smooth as Al Hirschfeld’s, and a magnificent use of white space, Molly Idle‘s Flora and the Flamingo offers much to admire.  Flora, a little girl whose physique does not suggest “ballet,” aspires to that sort of physical grace. With the help of the flamingo, the two dance a sublime, gently comic, duet.  Lifting the flaps (on the pages on which they appear) allows the reader to better “see” the movements of both girl and bird.  I’d read nearly all of our finalists prior to the Mock Caldecott conversations, but today was my introduction to Idle’s work. I look forward to reading more of it.

Should’ve Been Contenders!

Peter Brown, Mr. Tiger Goes WildAs is always the case, there were many great books that don’t get the votes.  Peter Brown‘s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild came in fourth in our voting.  It’s an hilarious, well-designed story of the need to, well, go a little wild every now and then.  (I read it is a kind of a riff on Where the Wild Things Are.)  Our other finalists were Melissa Sweet‘s Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (text by Michelle Markel), Jon Klassen‘s The Dark (text by Lemony Snicket), and Eliza Wheeler‘s Miss Maple’s Seeds.

I really wanted to see Bob Staake‘s Bluebird, Frank Viva‘s A Long Way Away, and David Wiesner‘s Mr. Wuffles among the contenders, but none of these garnered a majority’s worth of votes.  Nor, sadly, did Lizi Boyd‘s Inside Outside, and, ah, I could go on.  But I won’t.

There were many beautiful picture books published in the U.S. in 2013.  As my colleague Joe Sutliff Sanders observed, this has been a great year for book design.  I’m paraphrasing him — but that was the gist of his comment.  And he’s right.

People reading picture books, at the Mock Caldecott, Manhattan, KS, 7 Dec. 2013

What are your favorite picture books from 2013? Which one do you think deserves the Caldecott Medal?

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Comic-Con, San Diego, Friday, July 19

And now, a few notes from day 3 of Comic-Con 2013.

A Simple Repast, Coming This Fall

Jerry Griswold invited me for breakfast at the Broken Yolk, which (we discovered) had been leased by the TruTV television show (Impractical) Jokers. As we sat at the table, we noticed that a laminated advertisement fully covered the table’s surface. Then, a smiling young woman employed by the network stopped by to hand out an advertisement disguised as comic book. She also invited us to flick a spinner on a plastic wheel, to win a prize. I did and won a sturdy keychain bearing the name of the network. So did Jerry. For those who are interested, the television program seems to involve four white men getting into mischief. Alleged hilarity ensues.

Brought to You By

advertisement on side of building, San Diego

Advertising covers every available surface at the Con itself. The sides of buildings, the sides of buses, the sides and backs of bicycle taxis, the sides of people. To be at the Con is to be immersed in glossy appeals from the entertainment industrial complex. Not that anyone expected otherwise.

advertisement on side of bus, San Diego

Juxtaposed Images vs. Juxtaposed Text and Images: Smackdown!

Philip Nel, Scott McCloud, R.C. Harvey

While loitering at the Fantagraphics booth, I met R.C. (Bob) Harvey, whose work I’ve read and admired for years.  Then, Scott McCloud strolled up to chat.  Haven’t seen him in, oh, 5 years at least. Great to see him again. As if on cue, these two theorists of comics — with opposing views on how comics work — began a friendly debate. As my students (and, really, all people who are serious about comics) know, Scott McCloud, following Will Eisner, defines comics as “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence.” For Harvey, however, the key juxtaposition is between text and images.

Here is a slightly sketchy, inaccurate recreation of our conversation:

Harvey: Have I convinced you yet that text are part of comics?

McCloud: Isn’t text a kind of image?

Harvey: When a definition gets too broad, it loses meaning.

McCloud [not taking the bait]: That can happen, true.

Me: There should be a panel — at a future SPX? at a future Comic-Con? — with both of you, Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik — debating how comics work.

McCloud: And Dylan Horrocks. Have you read his “Inventing Comics”?

Me: No. Where would I find it?

McCloud: It appeared in The Comics Journal. I think he also has it on his website. It’s a very eloquent, smart take-down of me and Understanding Comics.

Me: Thanks.  I’ll check it out.

Gauld = Wry, Topical Gorey

Scott, Karin and I walked over to the Drawn & Quarterly booth, to say hello to Tom Gauld.  I wanted to tell him how much I enjoyed his presentation, and buy a few books — his, the new Spiegelman anthology, more Moomin comics….  But back to Gauld. Later in the afternoon, I read You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, and I think many of my fellow English professors (or, simply, anyone who is a great reader) would enjoy these cartoons.  Rendered with Gorey-esque style and humor, they’re more topical and wry than Gorey. Though some have dark undercurrents, Gauld’s comedy creates a brighter mood. I laugh out loud at these more often than I do at Gorey’s work. The comic below is actually one of the less topical collected in the book, but it’s definitely a keeper.

Tom Gauld

Here Comes Snoopy

I also got to meet Snoopy. (That’s him, on the right.)

Snoopy and fan

My first choice would have been a photo with Charlie Brown, but I understand that he is currently in traction, following an unfortunate, annual kicked-and-missed-football accident.

Drawing Stories: What’s New in YA Graphic Novels

Panel featuring: Vera Brosgol (Anya’s Ghost), Gris Grimly (Frankenstein), Faith Erin Hicks (Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong), Hope Larson (Who Is AC?, Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time), Paul Pope (Battling Boy)

Moderator Scott Robins asked: What did you read as a teen-ager?

Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2Vera Brosgol read Sailor Moon and Pokemon. She got really into manga.  Sheoved Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2 and Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal.

Gris Grimly responded, “I wasn’t allowed to read comics, but as a kid I would read New Mutants and hide it.  I’d stick it in my backpack between schoolbooks and stuff.  I was really into horror even though I wasn’t allowed to read horror.”  He also admitted that his books are really more children’s books than comics, but that he had always really wanted to draw comics.  As a result, he said, “My books stand out in the children’s book sections because they look like comics.”

Faith Erin Hicks answered, “I am Canadian, and as all good Canadian children do, I grew up reading Tintin and Asterix…. But when I hit my teenage years, I didn’t really have access to comics.  There was one comic book store, but it was terrifying…. I had no access to comic books that were appropriate for a 15-year-old to read.”  She added, “I started making comics because I wanted to make the sort of comics that I wanted to read.”  Getting back to the question, she admitted, “As a teen-ager, I mostly read prose.” She mostly read science fiction.

Paul Pope said, “I read what ever I could find, but the stuff that I lvoed was Dune. I read Heavy Metal magazine.  I loved Carl Barks.  I read Moby-Dick.” These comments made me see immediately why he and Jeff Smith — who recommended Pope’s work yesterday — would be friends.

Hope Larson told us, “I was kind of an anime and manga nerd in high school.  So, Ranma 1/2. And then I got into indie comics — Dan Clowes, that sort of thing.”

Scott Robins asked: How many of you on the panel are readers of YA fiction?  If so, does that play a role in your work?

Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & ParkFaith Erin Hicks responded immediately: “I’m a big reader of YA. I read one on the plane.” That book was Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. She wants to see more YA comics. She would like to see books like Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in comics.

Others admitted that they don’t read much YA. Hope Larson responded, “Lately, I don’t have as much time to read. I read YA, but I read my friends’ books.”  Paul Pope said that “Once you start working, you go … down into a trench. All I look at right now is Moebius and Kirby.  I feel like you can do two things. You can either read everything or nothing.  I’m reading nothing.”  Gris Grimly admitted that most of his influences come from children’s literature of over 100 years ago — Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

In a discussion of why teens read, Paul Pope said that when you’re a teenager, “You read to enhance your experience.” Teen-agers, he said, are trying to understand their experience, see possible futures. I thought that an insightful comment.

In a discussion of the future of the YA graphic novel, Paul Pope had an explanation for why there are currently so few: “You have to have two disciplines down, a writer and an artist, to do YA graphic novels. And that’s 20 years to become each.”  Though (as she admitted) the author of an adaptation herself, Hope Larson said, “What I would hope about YA comics is that I’d like to see more original fiction and less adaptations.”

In response to an audience member’s question on making comics more female-friendly, Faith Erin Hicks said, “Not all girls need to have large bosoms” — which inspired much applause from the audience. Paul Pope agreed: “Comics have been dominated by the male gaze.”

One interesting question that no one really had an answer for is what makes a YA comic book a YA comic book. Gris Grimly wasn’t sure. Faith Erin Hicks said “Because they’re about teenagers.” But, as Ben Towle pointed out in a question, teen-agers often read books about adults. So, not an easy question to answer.

In response to why adolescents read what they do, Paul Pope said: “They trust stories to tell them the truth.  You cannot lie to children in books.”

Humor in Graphic Novels

Left to right: Andrew Farago, Jeffrey Brown, Tom Gauld, Lisa Hanawalt, Ellen Forney

On this panel, Andrew Farago, Jeffrey Brown, Tom Gauld, Lisa Hanawalt, Ellen Forney discussed — you guessed it — humor in graphic novels.

They began by discussing how they got into writing humorous comics.

Jeffrey Brown noted that humor “lets you deal with sometimes serious subjects, but there’s this distance that the humor gives you that grants you a different perspective”

Tom Gauld: “I wanted to be a deep dark soul who was tormented, but I just wasn’t. … And I’ve found that through that humor, you can still have a depth….”

Lisa Hanawalt: “It was a way of interacting with other people if I was shy”

Ellen Forney, MarblesEllen Forney: “I think having a sense of humor is a great way of coping with life.”

Lisa Hanawalt: “Sometimes the funniest things are the saddest things.”

Tom Gauld: “A lot of humor comes from things failing…. For something to be funny, you need that balance — funny and sadness, and awkwardness.”

Next, Andrew Farago (our moderator) switched to background in cartooning, asking “What led you here today?”

Jeffrey Brown: “About 15 years ago, I started writing autobiographical comics. And I focused on the most awkward things. I was trying to show how stupid I was.”

Tom Gauld: “The thing I do — the weekly thing for the Guardian — and so every week, I think that the joke is like a little machine that I’d like to make work. And it’s not really about anything else other than itself.  Whereas in a longer work, the joke is in service to the story. The joke comes out of the situation. It can’t be funny all the time.”

Tom Gauld, The Poetry Gene

Lisa Hanawalt: “Comics are the most efficient way for me to take whatever I’ve been experiencing in my life”

Ellen Forney: “Telling — especially retelling — something that was intense or awkward is a way of owning it, controlling it.”

Andrew Farago observed, “Every time I’ve done a panel with humor as a topic, it’s always become about misery”

Tom Gauld added that there’s the idea that “‘Happiness writes white’ because when it’s happy there’s nothing to say”

Tom Gauld noted that people think that writing cartoons must be fun. He acknowledged that, when you get the idea, it’s great. “On either side of that moment, I get a kind of brain smile. But the rest of the time, it’s just a man sitting alone in a room.”

Asked where they draw inspiration from, the cartoonists answered….

Tom Gauld: “My work’s abstracted from the world. It’s not really autobiographical.”

Lisa Hanawalt: “I take a lot of notes”

Ellen Forney: “just observations from the day”

Next question: Are long-form versus short-form radically different processes for you?

“A really short comic can be a bit like writing a haiku, because everything really matters” replies Tom Gauld, who admits he “likes the constraints.” Gauld also explained how he helps people get the joke. He’s always thinking, he says, “Someone who hasn’t been on this thinking journey that I’ve been on, how can I leave little markers for them that will lead them to this hilarious conclusion?”

A Tribute to Kim Thompson of Fanagraphics Books

Eric Reynolds, Gary Groth, Diana Schutz, Gilbert Hernandez, and Jaime Hernandez Fantagraphics publishers (and partners of the late Kim Thompson) Eric Reynolds and Gary Groth joined Diana Schutz (of Dark Horse), and Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez (whose Love & Rockets is published by Fantagraphics) to remember Kim Thompson.

As Gary Groth noted at the start of the panel, to learn more about Kim, everyone should take a look at the triubutes to Kim on the Fantagraphics website (I think he means The Comics Journal website, because that’s where I found them).

Recalling being hired (at Fantagraphics) by Kim, Diana Schutz noted that there were a lot of other women who Kim had reached out to. “Back in the ’80s, there were not a lot of other women who were interested in comics. In a lot of ways, we were ignored. So, it was a great honor to be asked to contribute.”

Kim Thompson & EisnersJaime Hernandez saw Kim as something of an enigma. Imagining saying hello to Kim, he said, “Sometimes it was just “Hey, Kim,” and then Kim’s reply would be “Hey.” And that would be the end of the reaction. Then, Jaime said, “In the Comics Journal, there’d be this review attacking Frank Miller, and I’d wonder: is that the same Kim?”  Recalling that article, (Kim Thompson’s review of Frank Miller’s Ronan), Gary Groth said that when he and Kim Thompson were out with Harlan Ellison, Ellison took exception to Kim’s review.  Gary argued back, vigorously defending Kim’s review.  Kim, however, said nothing.  He preferred to argue on the page.

“He was part French bohemian, part comic book nerd, part American punk”

—Eric Reynolds

When he wanted something, Kim would be more outgoing. Affecting Yogi Bear’s voice, Gilbert Hernandez demonstrated: “Heyy, Diana! I’m coming to California!” He explained that Kim “had a way of trying to talk like Yogi Bear when he was trying to get something.”

I found especially interesting the list of novelists Kim Thompson liked (according to Gary and Eric):

  • Cormac McCarthy
  • Douglas Adams
  • P.G. Wodehouse
  • Terry Pratchett

“Fantagraphics publishes the best comics that are currently available, but Kim’s tastes were wider.”

— Diana Schutz

Eisners: It’s an Honor Just to Be Nominated

Susan Kirtley, Lynda Barry: Childhood Through the Looking-GlassCongratulations to Susan Kirtley on winning the Eisner for best Educational/Academic Work, for her Lynda Barry: Girlhood Through the Looking Glass — and for being the sole Eisner winner seated at our table.  She was so very happy.  Very cool.

For the record, since half of my book was devoted to a non-cartoonist (Ruth Krauss), I thought it an odd fit with the rest of the nominees — and the least likely to win. That said, I am an optimist and so was nervous… just in case. The moment Susan won, I relaxed. Whew! I didn’t have to get on stage and speechify. But, just in case, I had mentally prepared a few words. Here’s what I would have said:

When I began this project, back in the waning days of President Clinton’s second term, I never thought it would be nominated for such an award — much less be in the august company of my fellow nominees. There are many people to thank, but I’ll restrict myself to four. Thanks to Chris Ware for creating the best cover any of my books has ever had or will have. Thanks to Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss, who — though I never met them — became two of my closest friends. Finally, thanks to Karin Westman, who for a dozen years shared her spouse with this book.

Since I couldn’t say that there, I’m saying it here.

The big winner of the night was (no surprise!) Chris Ware, who — if my count is correct — won 5 of the 6 Awards for which he was nominated. Chip Kidd (Ware’s friend and editor) accepted them on his behalf, and performed his role with élan (and a bit of camp).

Oh, and there were a fair few celebrity award presenters: Edward James Olmos, Sergio Aragones, Neil Gaiman, James Marsters. (It is possible that Sergio Aragones is not a celebrity beyond the comics world, but any reader of MAD magazine would know who he is!)

Sergio Aragones at the Eisners, 2013

And as part of a bit Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Ross were doing, Chip Kidd kissed Neil Gaiman. On the mouth.

Kidd and Gaiman, snogging

And… that about wrapped things up for this year’s Eisner Awards.

I’ve never been nominated for such an award before, and am unlikely to be nominated again. I think I have a better understanding of those televised awards ceremonies now. The anticipation (and nerves) until your category’s done. And then, following the deflation, an ability to focus more broadly on what’s going on in the room, even as — lacking the former anxiety — fatigue begins to set in. The Eisners ran for oh, over 3 hours. I don’t remember exactly how long. But this is why other awards shows play the “please get off the stage” music (the Eisners do not). Important to keep the show moving.

We didn’t linger afterward. Ben Towle and I congratulated each other on losing an Eisner Award, and then ’twas time for a pleasant walk back to the hotel to write this up.

Coming Saturday morning at 9 am, another signing at Fantagraphics (booth 1718). Barnaby Volume One! The Johnson-Krauss bio.! The Chris Ware poster for the bio!  If you’re at Comic-Con, stop by!

Chris Ware's cover for Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature

 

The rest of my 2013 Comic-Con coverage:

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Mock Caldecott 2012: Manhattan, Kansas Edition

With thanks to the Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (ChALC) for organizing the event and the Manhattan Public Library (especially Melendra Sanders) for hosting it, we held a Mock Caldecott at this afternoon. We weren’t able to get all of the books we wanted to look at, and we likely overlooked other Caldecott contenders.  But, based on what we did get to review, here are the top choices of our group (composed of undergraduates, graduate students, children’s lit faculty, and members of the community).

The Winner:

I.C. Springman, More (illus. Brian Lies, 2012)Brian Lies, More (text by I.C. Springman).

The people voting for this one felt that Lies‘ artwork makes this book work.  The brief text offers only indicators of quantity (“a few,” “lots,” “too much”); the illustrations of all the items the magpie gathers result in an increasingly full nest.  While there’s clearly some didactic intent (the magpie hoards too much), the pictures convey the accretion of stuff in a way that’s playful and fun.  The book strives to teach us to want less, but never does it feel like it’s preaching at us.

The Honor Books:

Jon Klassen, This Is Not My HatJon Klassen, This Is Not My Hat.

This book won praise for the dynamic relationship between the pictures and words.  The small fish thinks that the large fish (from whom he stole the hat) will never catch him,  but the illustrations contradict him.  If the premise (hat thievery!) recalls last year’s excellent I Want My Hat Back, Klassen‘s new chapeau-centric book holds its own and, in some senses, may be even better than his 2011 effort.  It’s no sequel to the other book, but a completely new work, complete with hat-based humor.

Julie Fogliano, And Then It's Spring (illus. by Erin Stead)Erin Stead, And Then It’s Spring (text by Julie Fogliano).

People enjoyed the very detailed illustrations, which offered the eye many places to look.  Each of the animals in the pictures (none of which were named in the text) had its own distinct personality, and were fun to follow from page to page.  As is true of the other two books, the text here is very brief; Stead‘s pictures carry the day, telling us of those days just before spring, when everything looks brown.  Great balance between artwork and words.

There were many others that didn’t quite make the cut.  For example, Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Green, Karina Wolf’s The Insomniacs (a particular favorite of mine), Maurie J. Manning’s Eisner-esque Laundry Day, Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s Extra Yarn all made the finals.  And we were sorry to discover that the artist behind Up Above and Down Below, Paloma Valdivia, lives and works in Chile.  (The Caldecott goes to American illustrators.)  Many of us loved that book, but… it was ineligible due to the nationality of its artist.

So. What are your favorite picture books from 2012? And which do you think will win the Caldecott Medal?

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Congratulations, Caldecott Losers!

Dr. Seuss, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (cover)In terms of number of Caldecott Medals won, you are now tied with Dr. Seuss.  And Crockett Johnson.  And Wanda Gág, Eric Carle, Esphyr Slobodkina, James Marshall, Donald Crews, Jon Agee, Tim Egan, Peter Sís, Lane Smith, Barbara Lehman, Mo Willems, Lois Ehlert, Leo Lionni, and H.A. Rey.  None of them won the Caldecott Medal, though several won one or more Caldecott Honors: 3 (Seuss, Sís, Willems), 2 (Crews, Gág, Smith), 1 (Ehlert, Lehman, Marshall).

Awards tend to honor consensus, not genius.  Which is not to say, of course, that the Caldecott Medal has bypassed all geniuses. It hasn’t. Virginia Lee Burton, David Macaulay, Robert McCloskey, Jerry Pinkney, Peggy Rathmann, Maurice Sendak, William Steig, Chris Van Allsburg, and David Wiesner have all won.

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): coverBut, in 1938, Dr. Seuss’s And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street didn’t even merit a Caldecott Honor. Dorothy P. Lathrop’s pictures for Helen Dean Fish’s Animals of the Bible, A Picture Book won that year. Caldecott completely ignored Crockett Johnson’s books. The year that Harold and the Purple Crayon was eligible (1956), the award went to Feodor Rojankovsky’s illustrations for John Langstaff’s retelling of Frog Went A-Courtin‘.

Yet Mulberry Street and Harold and the Purple Crayon remain both beloved and in print, as do Slobodkina’s Caps for Sale, H.A. Rey’s Curious George, and Donald Crews’ Freight Train (an Honor Book in 1979).  Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar is one of the bestselling children’s books of all time.

So, to all who did not win the Caldecott Medal this year, you’re in excellent company.

(I suspect those who didn’t win today’s other awards are also in great company, but I know picture books best — and so have chosen to focus just on the Caldecott.  Also, just to be clear, this is not intended to criticize this year’s winner. Love Chris Raschka’s work! Rather, the point of this post is to place the award-giving into some context.  That’s all.)

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Mock Caldecott 2011: Manhattan, Kansas Edition

With thanks to the Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (ChALC) for organizing the event and the Manhattan Public Library for hosting it, we held aMock Caldecott at this afternoon.  Of course, we weren’t able to get all of the books we wanted to look at — so, there are certainly Caldecott candidates we didn’t get to review.  Here are the top choices of our group (composed of undergraduates, graduate students, children’s lit faculty, and members of the community)

The Winner:

Lane Smith, Grandpa Green (2011): coverLane Smith, Grandpa Green

A gentle, moving book about memory and age — and something of a departure for Smith.  Though it has humor and Smith’s beautiful, detailed artwork, it’s a more lyrical than his previous work, focused as it is on love and loss.  Though it’s reflective, it’s never melancholic: the boy’s journey through a topiary garden of his grandfather’s life is fun, with plenty of unexpected turns.  People liked the richness of the illustrations, the surprises in the story, and the fact that the book moved them.  For those who’d like to learn more, I gave the book a favorable review on this blog back in August.

John Rocco, Blackout (2011)

The Honor Books:

John Rocco, Blackout.

People spoke of how the book captured a child’s perspective on something scary (the dark) and made that fun.  We also liked its In the Night Kitchen-style layout — the book’s early pages even use a similar color palette to Sendak’s book, which won a Caldecott Honor in 1971.  Set in Brooklyn, Rocco‘s book is about the 2003 blackout, and how the absence of power brought people together.  This won the second-highest number of votes.

Deborah Freedman, Blue Chicken (2011)Deborah Freedman, Blue Chicken.

This tied with the following book for third place in its number of votes.  It’s a story of a chicken who is an artist — or, possibly, an artist who happens to be a chicken.  But not “chicken” in, you know, the “afraid” sense.  This chicken is quite happy to experiment with paint, and color, and — oh, don’t worry, I’m sure the paint will come out of that.  As Freedman‘s Scribble (2007) was, this is a playful book about what art can do.  Only with chickens.

Melissa Sweet, Balloons Over Broadway (2011)Melissa Sweet, Balloons Over Broadway.

This book is about Tony Sarg, who created the balloons for the original Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade — and, indeed, started the tradition of having helium characters floating over New York during this November holiday.  Sweet‘s mixed media, experiments with typeface, and shifts in perspective were appealing to some in the group, but others were more critical.  I enjoyed the book, but, given the discussion that preceded its 3rd-place finish, I was surprised to see it land in our Honor category.  Oh, and speaking of surprises, here are some ….

Jon Klassen, I Want My Hat Back (2011)Books That I Thought Were Cool But That Didn’t Make the Cut:

Jon Klassen, I Want My Hat Back.

I was surprised that this one didn’t even land in an “Honor” category for us.  There was some conversation about it as a contender for the Geisel Award, which may be an accurate predictor, but shouldn’t preclude it being a contender for the Caldecott.  My guess is that its minimalist aesthetic may have cost it a few points, when in fact that should have won it points. The book is a masterpiece of economy and wit.  Each detail works exactly right.  And it’s really funny.  I hope Klassen gets something for this one.

Fans of the book might enjoy Not Just For Kids‘ interview with Klassen, in wich he describes the book as follows: “I wanted to try and make it seem as though it was a badly rehearsed play with animals who were sort of brought in for the day to read these lines.”

Stephen Savage, Where's Walrus? (2011)Stephen Savage, Where’s Walrus?

I’ve an affinity for funny books, so naturally I’m drawn to this one — a comic tale of a walrus on the run, that mixes the find-the-character game of Where’s Waldo? with a playful narrative and plenty of joie de vivre.  Its design recalls posters from the 1930s: bold colors, sharp contrasts, and large bright shapes that look like they were printed.  Savage has created a wordless tale that bears repeated readings.  Good stuff.

And, ah, it has — as Julie Walker Danielson recently observed — been a great year for picture books.  Chris Van Allsburg’s Queen of the Falls, Chris Raschka’s A Ball for Daisy, Mat de la Pena and Kadir Nelson’s A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis, Maurice Sendak’s Bumble-Ardy.  And that list is far from complete.

So, what do you think?  What are your favorite picture books from 2011?  And which do you think will win the Caldecott Medal?

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How to Find Good Children’s Books

Children's Book Week Poster, 2009.  By Ian Falconer.I’m thinking, in particular, about how to find the good new ones, from among the many thousands of children’s books that appear each year.  This is a question I’m often asked, but it’s a question of particular interest to my Literature for Children classes right now, since their third paper requires them to find a “new” book (published in the last ten years) that’s different than the childhood favorite they’ve already written about.  So, here are some tips for them — and for all of you.

Awards.  Some good books win awards.

But plenty of good books do not win awards.  So, you need to look elsewhere, too — and not only at the runners-up for these awards.

Mock Caldecott.  All around the U.S. each fall, local libraries hold Mock Caldecott Awards, in which they bring in that year’s crop of U.S. picture books, invite anyone who’s interested to peruse them and vote on their favorites.  Here are the results for the one we did at the Manhattan (Kansas) public library this past fall (2010).

Your local public library.  See what’s new in the Children’s Section, Young Adult section, Graphic Novels section.  Often, the new works are on display.  If you have more specific questions, you might consult the children’s librarian or librarians.  Children’s librarians keep abreast of what’s new and nifty.

Children’s Literature blogs.  It will not surprise you to learn that many of these are run by librarians.

And, yes, there are many other excellent blogs.  Do feel free to recommend your favorites below.

Bookstores.  Preferably, independent children’s bookstores.  But, really, any bookstore.  Just go to the children’s section and look at the books.  You don’t have to buy anything.  Make notes on the books you like, and seek them at your local library, or perhaps return and buy them at a later date.

CHILD_LIT listserv, maintained by Michael Joseph (Rare Books Librarian, Rutgers).  Members of the listserv include librarians, teachers (from grade school to university), graduate students (and a few undergraduates), authors, illustrators, and anyone with an interest in children’s literature.

Stay curious.  Wherever you go, keep your eyes and ears open for good books.  Read publications devoted to children’s literature, like The Horn Book, and Kirkus Reviews of children’s books.  Talk with children’s book fans of all ages.

If you have other tips to add, please post in the comments below.  Thank you!

Image credit: poster for Children’s Book Week 2009 created by Ian Falconer.
For helping me expand this resource, my thanks to: Julie Walker DanielsonMaria Nikolajeva, Monica EdingerJudith RidgeDebbie Reese, and Ali B.

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The Book of Everything

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“Happy,” said Thomas. “When I grow up, I am going to be happy.”

Kuijer, The Book of Everything Nine-year-old Thomas sees things that others don’t, like “tropical fish swimming in the canals,” thousands of frogs massing outside his house, and the loveliness of sixteen-year-old Eliza, who has “an artificial leg made of leather” and seems to understand him. Guus Kuijer’s The Book of Everything (2004, translated by John Nieuwenhuizen, 2006) is a brief, beautiful tale of Thomas losing faith, making friends with his sister and Mrs. van Amersfoort, gaining confidence in himself, and learning to resist his father’s bullying.  The prose is lyrical, the images are magical realist, and the story is full of wisdom and humor.  Here is a passage when Thomas, visiting Mrs. van Amersfoort, listens to Beethoven for the first time (the second sentence refers to her cat, who has been napping on a globe):

His ears started ringing again. The globe started spinning, cat and all. When he was about to draw Mrs. van Amersfoort’s attention to this, he saw that her heavy chair was floating above the floor like a low cloud. He barely had time to take this in when he felt the chair he was sitting in rising slowly, as if strong hands were lifting it. He wanted to shout with joy, but when he saw Mrs. van Amersfoort’s intent face, he realized that, with this music, it was normal for chairs to float. (19)

I love how this translates Thomas’s sense of wonder into a literal, physical experience. Kuijer does not tell us that Beethoven’s music makes them feel as if they were floating. Instead, they just float, borne upward in their chairs, drifting like low clouds. Beautiful.

The Book of Everything won the Flemish Golden Owl Award, but is not widely known in this country. It’s really, really good. I highly recommend it. I suspect that, once you read it, you’ll recommend it, too.

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Mock Caldecott 2010: Manhattan, Kansas Edition

With thanks to the Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (ChALC) for organizing the event, we held a Mock Caldecott at the Manhattan Public Library this afternoon.  And, yes, of course, we weren’t able to get all of the books we wanted to look at — so, there are quite likely candidates we didn’t get to evaluate.  Here are the ones chosen by our group (composed of undergraduates, graduate students, children’s lit faculty, and members of the community).

Bill Thompson, Chalk: cover1. Bill Thompson’s Chalk

This wordless tale of chalk drawings coming to life owes a debt to Crockett Johnson‘s Harold and the Purple Crayon in its concept, but Chris Van Allsburg in its rendering and its mood.  Thompson‘s odd angles of vision on events, unusual sources of light, and expressive faces put one strongly in mind of Van Allsburg.

And, for our honor books, we chose:

Wiesner's Art & Max: cover2. David Wiesner’s Art and Max

Wiesner keeps finding new ways to write metafiction.  This one cleverly riffs on pontilism, pop art, and wire sculpture… all while two lizards experiment with paint.  Like his The Three Pigs or Tuesday (two earlier Caldecott-winners), the book must be experienced to be understood.

3. Mac Barnett’s Oh No! (or How My Science Project Destroyed the World), illustrated by Dan Santat

Dynamic, clever, and strongly influenced by both anime and comics, this humorous tale derives much pleasure from extending its protagonist’s imagination into her world — the permeable boundary between the fantasy of a runaway science project and ordinary city life makes us at first think her dream is true, but later wonder… and all the while enjoy.

Lane Smith, It's a BookHere are a few that didn’t make the cut but that I really liked.

Lane Smith’s It’s a Book, on which I’ve elaborated in an earlier post, should have been a finalist, but got disqualified for having too “adult” humor.  While I concede that there are some “adult” jokes, its silent-comedy storytelling is certainly for all ages — and thus unlike the funny The Boss Baby, a tale by Marla Frazee, which (to my mind) depends more heavily on some knowledge of the working world to get the jokes.  Frazee’s book would be great for new parents, but Smith’s works better both for adults and for children who love to read.

Pinkney and Pinkney, Sit-In: coverAndrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney’s Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down is a well-designed, dynamic rendering of the lunch-counter sit-ins of the early 1960s.  The poetic text and the verve of the illustrations makes this tale very exciting.  It’s hard to compress a complex historical event into a picture-book, but this succeeds very well.

Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle is a brilliantly rendered allegory of loss and then, ultimately, rediscovering the sense of curiosity that makes living fun.  It made our top 5, but I’d like to see it ranked even higher.  Brilliant use of space, well-paced story, evocative images.  Readers should also check out Jeffers‘ earlier books Lost and Found and The Incredible Book Eating Boy.

Suzy Lee, Shadow: coverSuzy Lee’s Shadow is another favorite for me this year.  You open it with the spine at the top, so that the fold is in the middle of your reading experience, dividing the upper half (a basement) from the lower half (a shadow).  The shadow transforms ordinary objects into an adventure.  Rewards re-reading.

What are your favorite picture books from 2010?  And which do you think will win the Caldecott Medal this year?

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