The Colour of Home, Mary Hoffman, Illustrated by Karin Littlewood
Best known for her Amazing Grace series, British author Mary Hoffman has created a stunning picture book that focuses on children's perception of war. A new refugee from war torn Somalia, Hassan finds his new English home dull and grey and colourless. He has no friends and doesn't understand English. Shown some paints, he begins to paint a picture of his home, starting initially with bright and vibrant colours that remind him of the life he left behind. But after painting his picture, he adds red and orange flames, darkening the vivid blue sky to a murky purple and smudges out figures. He doesn't want to show it to his mother, afraid that it will make her sad. Asked the following day to explain his picture by a translator, Hassan tells his painful story, simply articulating the devastating way that war has changed his life and that of his family. He's able then to paint another picture for his mother with no people and that is full of the sunny colours that he associates with his home and that is able to brighten up the new place that he and his family now call home. Hoffman has written a moving and poetic picture book text that is stunningly illustrated by Karin Littlewood's vibrant illustrations. Littlewood's paintings take us directly into the world that Hassan has left behind as well as the world that he now calls home, and her vivid yellows, reds, blues and greens are especially evocative.
John Coltrane's Giant Steps, Remixed by Chris Raschka
Author/illustrator Raschka has always had an interest in connecting kids with jazz. This is his third book in a jazz trilogy that includes Charlie Parker Plays Be-Bop and Mysterious Thelonious. As with these previous titles, John Coltrane's Giant Steps brilliantly makes music more accessible to young readers through the perfect melding of a text that mixes sounds, poetry and bold and vivid illustrations. Here, Raschka mimics one of jazz great Coltrane's most innovative jazz compositions using big easy-to-follow illustrations that mirror the different strands of this extraordinary piece of music. Using soft pastel colours and free-form images of a box, a snowflake, raindrops and a kitten, Raschka plays with images the way that Coltrane plays with sound to create a picture book that is the ultimate musical experience.
Solomon's Tree, Andrea Spalding, Illustrations by Janet Wilson
When the big old maple tree outside his house¨a tree that Solomon loves like a friend¨ is struck by lightening and torn up in a storm, Solomon is devastated. But when his uncle, a Native carver, asks Solomon if he would like him to carve a mask of the spirit of the tree, Solomon is delighted. Step by step, readers are guided through the traditional Tsimpshian ceremonies that accompany the making of masks in this rich and evocative picture book that celebrates man's connection with the earth. As his uncle carves the mask, he questions Solomon about his relationship with the tree, treating the tree as a true friend and a natural part of Solomon's life. We watch the mask taking shape, being painted and then, finally, worn by Solomon. Inspired by a mask-making workshop that she took with Tsimpshian master-carver Victor Reece, Andrea Spalding simply relates the mask masking process through Solomon's ever-curious eyes. Her deeply moving text is accompanied by rich illustrations by Janet Wilson that provide readers with greater access to the mask-making process. Wilson was able to use designs provided by master-carver Victor Reece that frame each illustration as well as the designs for the mask itself.
The Tiger and the Dried Persimmon, Janie Jaehyun ParkIn this delightful retelling of a classic Korean folktale, a starving tiger thinks that he's finally found something to eat in a small village¨an enormous ox¨until he overhears a mother trying to comfort her crying baby. The tiger thinks that baby isn't afraid of anything as he keeps crying despite the mother's warnings. He appears unafraid of the prospect of encountering a fierce wolf, a big black bear or even a fearful tiger. The only thing, in fact, that quiets the baby is a piece of dried persimmon and the tiger mistakenly believes that Dried Persimmon must be the meanest animal in the world if it's the only thing that will stop this fearless baby's cries. Just as he's about to slink away, however, he's attacked by a cattle thief, who thinks the tiger is that enormous ox and jumps onto his back; the tiger, meanwhile, thinks that the cattle thief is the Dried Persimmon and rushes away as quickly as he can. Park is a gifted storyteller¨she's captured both the oral sense of this folktale and been able to transform that telling into a first rate picture book. Her illustrations are especially striking as they not only beautifully create a sense of the magic of the folktale but have been executed in a style that is obviously influenced by the traditional folk art of Korea. It's no wonder that this book was shortlisted for this year's Governor General.
What About Me?, Ed Young
In his latest picture book, Caldecott medalist Ed Young retells a traditional Sufi teaching tale with his wonderful cut-paper collage illustration technique. Like Aesop's fables, Middle Eastern Sufi Stories are essentially teaching tools, and like Aesop's fables, they teach through stories. A young boy seeks just a little bit of knowledge and turns to a Grand Master. But the Grand Master wants a carpet in return and the carpetmaker wants some thread, the spinner woman wants goat hair and so on and so forth. The boy is certain that he's never going to be able to satisfy everyone's requests and never gain the knowledge that he so badly desires. But chance provides him with an opportunity that sets a series of wonderful events in motion and in the process teaches the boy that he already has all the knowledge he's yearning for. Young simply spins the story out and then reels the reader into the heart of this magical retelling of a classic tale. Like the best Sufi stories, What About Me? has a gentle message¨it teaches children to learn to rely on their own knowledge and experience. Young's as always brilliantly executed collage illustrations nicely mimic the clarity and simplicity of his storytelling voice, adding a sprightly buoyancy to the telling.
Jeffrey Canton is editor of the children's books section in Books in Canada.