Monday, October 31, 2011

Follow Me!

I've been reading a lot of picture books lately.  This year, since I was a stay at home mother for most of the year, I swore I would have read most of the award winners when their names are called in January.  I've kept up with blogs (A Fuse #8 Production, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast), with Mock Caldecott Lists (Glendale Public Library, Allen County Public Library) and my own library browsing.  I don't keep track of how many picture books I read, but it's well into the two hundreds, at least.  I feel like I've been fairly comprehensive, but of course you can't predict how the committee's collective mind works.  I can only hope they will see things my way and consider choosing Follow Me.

Tricia Tusa isn't a new artist by any means, but the art in Follow Me is some of the most striking art I've seen from her.  I'm going to break from my own tradition and talk about the art first in this case.  Usually I talk plot/story first and then move on to art, but in making the case for a Caldecott nod, I have to say the art is jaw-droppingly beautiful.  Tusa has used what is cited in the front of the book as "an etching process with monoprinted color" to create the illustrations in this book.  What stands out the most to me is the monoprinted color.  Tusa's color choices are strong yet soft.  The colors are luminous - the book glows in your hands.  The backgrounds are simply crystal clear colors, but there is also a chalky texture to them.  These choices are truly unique.  What is also striking about this book is that the backgrounds are in many ways the focus of the book.  These pages are simple, without a lot of extraneous detail to clutter up the backgrounds.  It just makes the colors stand out.

Now let me go back and talk about the plot so you can see how well the words and illustrations fit together.  A young girl talks about soaring through colors as she admires them in the natural world around her.  She is gleeful, she is joyful, she is exuberant with the beauty around her.  And while she talks about emotionally soaring, she is physically soaring as well.  Her braid flies behind her as she rides on a tree swing - the old-fashioned kind with just a plank of wood and knotted ropes.  As she is enveloped in color, she shoots off the swing, soaring yet again through the sky.  The girl skims the leaves and flowers as she bumps gently to the ground.  The text is poetic without fitting a particular rhyme scheme.  It's dreamy and luminous, just like the colors Tusa chose.  And finally the little girl comes back down to Earth, finding her way back home.

The girl in the illustrations is not particularly old-fashioned but I would say this whole book has a timeless feel to it.  This girl is a child who is allowed the freedom and physical space to revel in her imagination.  She soars up into the limitless sky, lands in fields of flowers without a honking car or busy street to jar her out of her dreamy state.  It reminds us as parents, caregivers and educators how important it is to try and give our children this space to dream.  Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast gives this her Flight of Fancy award (I would link to the specific post, but I can't find it!) and it truly deserves that.  Not only is the book full of both flight and fancy, but it is full of nature.  And when the little girl lands and returns home, she is much richer for the experience.  There is a bounce in her step as she enters her front yard and goes up the steps.  The text is very simple, but it is the kind of book that invites the reader's own interpretation and imagination.  This is yet another reason why I think the text and the soothing, dreamy colors work so well together.

This was a spring picture book, and those can sometimes get overshadowed by the newest fall publications come award time.  Here's my love letter to this book, in hopes it won't be forgotten.

Follow Me.  Tricia Tusa.  Harcourt Children's Books: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.

borrowed from the Lewis and Clark library

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