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Home | LS5603 Children's and YA Literature | LS6643 Nonfiction for Children and YA

Book Reviews: Genre 1 Picture Books


Marcus, Leonard S.  1998.  A CALDECOTT CELEBRATION:  SIX ARTISTS AND THEIR PATHS TO THE CALDECOTT MEDAL.  New York:  Walker and Company.  ISBN:  0802786588.


A Caldecott Celebration:  Six Artists and their Paths to the Caldecott Medal is a picture book that profiles six Caldecott Medal winning artists.  Marcus tells of unique techniques each artist employed on the path to a final product such as Robert McCloskey living with ducks in order to write Make Way for Ducklings, and William Steig's usage of donkeys as main characters in Sylvester and the Magic Pebble because he perceives the animals as loving and also hard workers.  The fine print on the Cataloging-In-Publication page states that Marcus was able to interview all six artists, and this personal knowledge comes through in detailed accounts that illuminate each artist's distinct personality.  The reader is able to sense David Weisner's quiet nature, which Marcus describes as soft-spoken, and then feel his joy as he becomes quite chatty upon the news that he has won the Caldecott.


The pictures in A Caldecott Celebration reinforce Marcus's accounts of each artist's processes in creating their work.  The hand-written pagination, erasure marks, and different versions of the same character seen in the examples of illustrations-in-progress by McCloskey, Marcia Brown, Maurice Sendak, and Wiesner show how works that are now revered began as imperfect possibilities.


A theme that seems to emerge is the demystification of the writing process.  Almost every artist profiled recounts going through the process of trial and error.  The Wild "Things" in Sendak's book were once horses, animals, and beasts.  Chris Van Allsburg had to make many detailed sketches for each illustration before choosing the one that would be perfect for each page in Jumanji.  Authors also share compromises that must be made to appease editors on the paths to their final products.  In plain, everyday language, Marcus is able to introduce six world-famous artists and give readers a glimpse of their giftedness and also their humanity.




Cronin, Doreen.  2004.  DUCK FOR PRESIDENT.  Ill. by Betsy Lewin.  New York:  Simon and Shuster. ISBN:  0689863772.


Any child who has ever muttered under her breath, "You're not the boss of me!" as she stomped away to complete some parent-ordered chore will delight in this vibrant book that puts a duck in the White House.  Duck is unhappy with the work required of him on the farm, so he calls an election and becomes the farmer.  When he realizes that the duties of the farmer take a lot out of him as well, he decides he is much better suited for governor.  When that doesn't work out, he tries the role of president.   He finally realizes that he had it pretty easy as a simple farm duck and decides to return to his humble beginnings.


The funny text of Duck for President will appeal to both child and adult.  It is simple and straightforward, but any adult who has watched CNN in the last five years will catch references to recent political events.  When the duck runs for president, he plays the saxophone on a late-night talk show.  At the end of every election, the loser demands a recount.  And a picture of one voter shows a man wearing a very Floridian tropical print shirt and a Panama Jack hat as he drops his paper ballot into the box.  All that is missing is a hanging chad.


The facial expressions of Lewin's farm animals and also Farmer Brown are the highlight of the vibrant watercolor illustrations. The disgust of the pigs when they must endure the smell of Farmer Brown and the suave debonair of the duck as he plays his saxophone are worthy of a laugh out loud.   This is a book that works on several different levels.




Rohmann, Eric.  2002.  MY FRIEND RABBIT.  Brookfield, Connecticut:  Roaring Book Press.  ISBN:  0761324208.


Rohmann's tale of friendship no-matter-what will strike a chord with any reader old enough to have a friend.  As rabbit continues to make more and more trouble for mouse, he shows his exasperation but stands by patiently as Rabbit tries to solve the problem.  Mouse's statement of unconditional friendship gives Rabbit validation and permission to be himself and gives young readers comfort and guidance as they navigate the waters of socialization.  Although the book jacket states "Every child who's ever had someone slightly bigger or slightly older over to play will recognize this story about toys and trouble and friendship," this book is more about the simple fact of being friends and liking someone in spite of their quirks.


The bold colors and strokes used in the illustrations make the reader feel as if they were about to be Rabbit's next victim in creating his tower to rescue the stranded toy.  Facial expressions give the animals personalities, and action seems to leap off the pages as the tower is built and tumbles in its inevitable downfall.  Seven double-spread, wordless pages keep the story moving along as we see Rabbit huffing and puffing to carry bewildered animals and achieve his goal.  Rohmann uses simple and easy to read text to show that although Mouse knows Rabbit's annoying traits, he is his friend, and he likes him anyway. 




Van Allsburg, Chris.  1993.  THE SWEETEST FIG.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Company.  ISBN:  0395673461.


In The Sweetest Fig, Van Allsburg wastes no time in letting the reader know that the main character, Bibot, is a fussy and greedy man.  He is introduced as the former in the first sentence of the book as his delight in disciplining his dog is explained, and the second page shows Bibot's avarice when he sees only dollar signs when confronted with an old woman in pain.  When the woman is only able to pay for the services in magical figs that will make your dreams come true, Bibot is disgusted and refuses to give the woman any painkillers to ease her suffering.  After learning that the figs actually do hold magical powers, Bibot spends many hours training himself to dream that he is the richest man on earth.  But his plans are spoiled when his dog manages to get his paws on the fig first, and he is able to exact revenge by making his own canine dreams come true.


While Van Allsburg states some aspects of this story directly through the text, it is some of the subtleties that show his respect for the precociousness of his young readers.  Through pictures and hints, the reader knows long before it is stated that the story takes place somewhere in France.  Bibot's greed is shown through a smile he betrays when he realizes that a poor old woman must have a tooth removed.  Even the final twist in the plot is not directly told but shown to the reader when all he (Bibot) could do was bark.


Van Allsburg's incredibly detailed artwork pulls the reader into Bibot's immaculate world in tones of brown, cream, and a few blues.  Facial expressions on both Bibot and his dog tell enough about their personalities that text about these traits is almost unnecessary.  When Bibots eyes glare out at the reader from his reflection in a bathroom mirror, one can almost see his greedy soul.


This book offers great opportunity for follow up discussion.  For younger children, there could be discussion of the simple lesson at the end of the book.  Older children would enjoy a group discussion on such topics as:  How could Bibot have become this way?  Do you think the dog understood the magical powers of the fig?  What will life be like now that Marcel is the master?


INTERESTING RELATED WEB SITES:  A multiple choice test about the The Sweetest Fig Classroom activities related to The Sweetest Fig  More activites; also has a bibliography of other books about dreams

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All Materials for this Site created by:
Holly S.
Graduate Student at Texas Woman's University