Reflective Renewal

finding meaning and inspiration in children's literature

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So simple, yet so complex: Check out this year’s Caldecott Honor books

April 6th, 2010 by christine · 1 Comment · Creativity, children's books

Don’t you consistently find that the simplest things in life are the most beautiful, and sometimes the most complex and fulfilling?  I find that I get more out of a simple children’s picture book than I often get out of a complicated textbook.  The same goes for a single flower versus a bouquet, or a quaint cottage versus a mansion.  There is much to be said for simplicity.

That is why I love this year’s Caldecott Honor books– Red sings from treetops: A year in colors by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski and All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Marla Frazee.

Both books are essentially poems accompanied by rich, layered illustration, yet both books elicit such pleasure, emotion, and thought.

Red sings from treetops is an exploration of the seasons done in an innovative fashion, by personifying colors.  While the book is seemingly simple in its content of colors and seasons, it does so with sophisticated language and sensory detail. Personally, I was most struck by the book’s cohesion.  There is cohesion between text and illustration, as well as cohesion within the text and illustrations themselves, which ties the whole book together.  People rarely understand the importance of cohesion in holding a piece of work together, and this book is an exemplar for repeating elements, carefully woven in a way that makes sense.  Although I love the text, which is a brilliantly crafted poem, it is really the illustrations that mesmerize me.  With a contemporary flair, Zagarenski appears to have combined collage and paint techniques to capture fine details, such as ladybugs and a sip of lemonade.  Her illustrations are fun and whimsical, and the kind you want to look at over and over again to discover little details that were missed the first time.  She personified color in a way I didn’t know was possible.  This book reminds us of what it is we all love about each of the seasons. In the end, it is the simple things that truly matter– the marriage of yellow and purple on a pansy, or the feeling of our warm hands on the cold cheek of a snowman.

All the World feels like a classic to me.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this book were on the bookshelves of many people decades from now.  The text is a relatively brief, rhyming poem, with excellent rhythm and flow.  The illustrations almost feel retro to me, as though they were done 60 years ago, reminiscent of Leonard Weisgard.  Let’s face it– children love and respond well to rhyme.  There is an inherent part of our brains that resonates with the patterns rhyme offer us.  I find it ridiculous when snooty, unaware children’s publishers and literary agents shy away from rhyming picture books for children. Have they actually met children or worked with them?!  Children grow in their literacy and linguistic skills by being exposed to rhyme!  All the World is a perfect example of a brief, rhythmic, rhyming poem that appeals to people of all ages, while simply exploring the complexities of life, such as the intricacies of nature, or age, or what makes the world go round.  The soft, detailed illustrations are timeless.  In short, this book captures and conveys what really matters in life.

Remember– in the simple resides the complex.  When life gets too complicated, as it often does, nothing make any sense, and nothing seems to matter anymore.  These two Caldecott Honor books remind us that simplicity holds beauty and fulfillment.  Money, power, and status don’t matter in the end.  Togetherness, a connection and appreciate of nature, and loving gestures are what really count at the end of the day.  Do yourself a favor and curl up with these books after a long, difficult day.  All of a sudden, you’ll have a fresh perspective you didn’t know existed.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Elizabeth // Jul 26, 2010 at 1:33 AM

    I completely agree that reading kids books can be more helpful than books for adults. It tends to stick with me longer because of the visuals and because of my emotional reaction to the illustrations. I have read all of the gold winners and now I am making my way through the Caldecott honor books. Nice to find a fellow book reader who appreciates simple things.

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