Happy Picture Book Month! Throughout the month of November AVRL will celebrate picture books. We’ve got two Picture Book Paloozas scheduled, in Middleton and in Hantsport, so come to one of those to see a huge pile of great books. Our branches will be displaying picture books all month long. Our Book Club 150 featured storyteller is Sydney Smith, and you can enter to win a copy of his fabulous book, Town is by the Sea. Each week, I will publish a new post on this blog featuring some of my favourite new picture books. Let’s start off with a little piece of brilliance from Dan Santat.
Santat’s latest book, After the Fall, is about a famous egg who fell off a wall. As we can expect, Mr. Santat takes it further, and twists the story into a tale of resilience, transformation, and getting back up to face your fears or anxieties.
First off, this a a masterful bit of bookmaking. On the case cover, it is all white space with Humpty falling, his binoculars tumbling along. The opening end pages show the egg sitting on the wall, in bright sunlight. The back end pages show the same scene, at dusk, with a bird flying away. The end pages give the whole story a big hug, and give the observant reader a clue to the story. Look here for the Asian coin standing atop a building: in fact, there are several images throughout the book that give a nod to Mr. Santat’s heritage. There are hidden, dare I say “Easter Eggs” for those who know more about Santat, who has been very open about sharing the story of how he wrote this book for his wife, who suffered from extreme anxiety.
Next, the Wall. Climbing up the wall are vines which remind me of the shapes of mountains in Chinese watercolour scrolls. The wall is dark, and near the bottom we see those binoculars, hurtling down after our hero. Turn the page, and there he is, strolling out of Kings County Hospital. The king’s men! I love these little details.
One of my favourite pages is next — the image of our egg, lying on the floor below his bed, because he is too mentally broken to climb up the ladder to his bunk. His eyes guide the viewer up to that height he dare not climb, to the comfort he is afraid to seek. It is a heartbreaking scene and gives us a huge hint to the rest of the story.
The next page is just brilliant. Standing in front of a wall of cereal, Humpty is still frightened of heights— and the best cereals, of course, are up a ladder. This image does a few things: it shows us how his life is hampered by his fears. It shows us the bright glory of sugar on top, fading to grey at the bottom: visual metaphor for taking the dull, unwanted thing because the bright feels unattainable. And it shows us the clever sense of humour that Santat puts in for careful readers.
The book visually guides us through the story: page after page is expertly designed to show the eye where to go, to show isolation, to show triumph. In the image below, the big diagonal lines cut the page and show us what is important. Look for these sweeping diagonals throughout the book – they imply motion and tension and move the story along.
As you can see, I am quite taken with this book. I would venture to say that it might even be a better book than Santat’s Caldecott winner, The Adventures of Beekle: the Unimaginary Friend. And if you read this blog or know me, you’ll know I have a big love for that book. So I’m going out on a limb, or shall I say, up a ladder, and saying this is my choice for the Caldecott this year. Now, I’ve not looked at the books the way the committee has, and I have not seen hundreds of books in the way they have. But so far, this is my choice. You heard it here, folks.
See you back here next week for more picture books!