Fsor Picture Book Month, I will be posting new books each week. This week I want to feature one book that I am particularly fond of. Last year my PBM favourite, Finding Winnie, happened to win the Caldecott Award. Just saying.
The book I am loving right now is Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport. First off, let’s talk about the story. This is based on the true story of a small town of Cateura, Paraguay, which is the location of the main garbage dump for the capital city of Asuncion. Garbage is the main employer of most of the town’s residents — they spend their time picking through looking for something of value to sell or recycle. As you can imagine, poverty is rampant, and life is hard. Ada, the main character, wants more than joining a gang. Her grandmother signs her up for music lessons, and when Ada and the other children arrive, the find there are only a few instruments and they all have to share. An enterprising man builds them instruments from garbage, and an orchestra is born. You may have seen this on YouTube or on social media, their story has been shared often. This book tells the story for a younger audience without talking down to them, and yet putting the social issues at the forefront.
The story is one that will grab readers of a wide age range. The illustrations are what grabbed me. Comport uses light and shadow to visually draw our attention to important parts of the story. The text does not point this out, and so Comport’s illustration deepens the story and extends the meaning for readers. In this spread, Ada notices the gangs of teens hanging out in alleys. She and her sister are in shadow as well, as though they are uncertain if their future is to be in the sunlight playing, like the middle of this spread, or like the teens in the alley.
Her use of yellow to denote light is seen throughout the book. A simple line of yellow paint shows light on a face, a drum, a violin. An she uses line to draw the eye along the page, using crisp triangles that remind us of the spotlights that later shine on the orchestra as they play onstage. This spread, of Ada playing her landfill violin, is a fine example of both light and line. You can also see the little bits of paper collage, with music notes on them. She’s used reclaimed materials in the art which remind us of the reclaimed materials used for the instruments.
Take a look at this one – you will be amazed at the art and the story. I would not be at all surprised if the Caldecott Committee is taking a look at it as well. Have you seen this book? Leave your observations in the comments.
Come back next week for more picture books!