Showing posts with label 2008 Caldecott. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2008 Caldecott. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Wall by Peter Sis

One wouldn’t think a book about growing up behind the Iron Curtain under the thumb of the Soviet Army and an oppressive Czechoslovakian government that squashes any form of free thought or expression would make this website.

And you’d be right. Usually.

The Wall by Peter Sis is an exception.

It’s part picture book. The majority of the book is black and white. At first the only other color used is red, and only to illustrate the communist influence – stars, flags, banners, bandanas, missiles. Eventually, as news and ideas from the West creep into Czechoslovakia, so do colors into the book. American and British flags. Musicians. Sports figures. Artists. Yellow submarines. And as more ideas are expressed, the more the government attempts to squash them, returning the book to black and white and red, with only the occasional color, like subversive Western thought, sneaking in. The pictures, at first seemingly simplistic, offer more detail, often amazing and tiny details, with each reread.

It’s part history lesson. As Peter’s story is told across the bottom of the page, italicized writing in the margins tells the history of Czechoslovakia as Peter grows. Readers learn how the Soviets took control of the country and closed the borders, how communist ideals were demanded and enforced, and how children were brainwashed into believing this was the only acceptable way of life. Readers learn how people behind the Iron Curtain learned more about Western styles (long hair, blue jeans) and music (the Beatles, Beach Boys, and Rolling Stones) and culture (theater, poetry, and even the Harlem Globetrotters) and how the government tried to stop it all.

And it’s part memoir. A one-page introduction explains the formation of the Eastern Bloc countries after World War II. At the end is an explanation of what happened to Peter’s family during these years. Interspersed between are three two-page spreads of excerpts from his journals which include school lessons, sports memories, arrests, rock bands, censorship, and the beginnings of his art career. The earliest journal entry is dated 1954 and the last is dated June 1977. Also included are photographs, posters, historical documents, and additional drawings showing even more of the time period.

I just noticed another amazing detail. At the top left of each journal page is a picture of a brain. The first brain is all red – the young boy who knows only what he’s taught. The second brain has many colors – the young adult now exposed to new ideas and beginning to think for himself. The last brain is fully developed – the adult who now knows the freedom he desires, long forbidden.

No, a book about growing up behind the Iron Curtain would normally not be a one I’d recommend. But The Wall, through its many layers and incredible pictures, is a remarkable book and deserves recognition.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Saying to a fourth grader, "Hey, I think you'll like this book," might get you a funny look. Say that while holding up a book that's Bible thick at 533 pages will earn you a downright scornful glare. Unless that book is The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Once children see the treasure inside they'll be intrigued at worst and flat-out hooked at best. Hugo Cabret uses pictures unlike any other book that comes to mind. While picture books like Caldecott winning Tuesday and Flotsam by David Wiesner have told stories wordlessly, Hugo Cabret incorporates the wordless story into a novel. The pictures don't show what the reader is reading. The pictures tell the story. Readers engrossed in the novel will suddenly encounter 20 pages of pictures. The pictures pick up seamlessly where the writing leaves off and lead smoothly into the next section of text.

Hugo Cabret has inherited the job of timekeeper at the Paris train station at the turn of the 20th century from his uncle who has disappeared. Hugo must keep all the clocks running. He lives in the walls of the station.

Hugo meets Isabelle and her godfather, Papa Georges, the owner of a toy shop. Hugo also has an automaton - sort of a turn of the century robot normally used by magicians - from his father. Hugo painstakingly restores the automaton and believes that it will create a message from his father. The mystery deepens when a key Isabelle has operates the machine, and the automaton's message is signed by Papa Georges! How could these connections have occurred?

All answers are eventually revealed. There are hints throughout the book, starting immediately, leading to tense rising action and a satisfying happy ending. Readers are also introduced to a early filmmaking. Many early movies are mentioned, and with a little Internet digging, readers can easily locate and watch A Trip to the Moon by Georges Melies, originally made in 1902, which plays a major role in the book.