The Wall by Peter Sis is a sophisticated picture book which represents the story of author Peter Sis life as her grew up in Czechoslovakia during theThe Wall by Peter Sis is a sophisticated picture book which represents the story of author Peter Sis life as her grew up in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. Although this book is categorized as a picture book, it is a blend of picture book and graphic novel. The illustrations are as vivid and telling as the words on the page. Winner of the Caldecott award for illustrations, the reader becomes aware of the absence of color – except for spots of communist red – on most pages, each page reflecting complex images using only shades of grey to create texture, emotion, and detail of an Eastern Bloc country. When images of Western Bloc culture creep onto the pages, they are in vivid color. The Wall also won the Siebert award, an award given for a book which provides information on a subject. This book, while fiction, functions as a type of hybrid fiction/non-fiction with its journal entries which are dispersed throughout the pages which serve as a timeline for events in the author’s life – both personal and historical. The historical aspects are bits of history when Western Bloc influences made their way to Prague, chipping away at the believe systems in place for many of Prague’s youth. Sis was born in 1949 just as Czechoslovakia fell to communist rule. The Wall spans the time of Sis’s life from infant through young adulthood and documents the changes in Czechoslovakia under communist rule, as well as the changes in Peter as he progressed from infanthood through young adult. Born an artist, the pages demonstrate Peter’s constant drawing in a country where restrictions on what an artist can produce were many. “After he drew whatever he wanted to at home, he drew what he was told to at school.” Peter conformed to the ways of his country until he discovered that there were things he wasn’t being told happening in other parts of the world. Peter begins to have dreams of all the “color” which exists outside of Prague – music like Elvis, The Beach Boys, and especially The Beatles! “Slowly he started to question. He painted what he wanted to – in secret.” The Wall continues through the invasion of the Russians in 1969 through 1989 when the wall falls.
In exploring Caldecott Award-winning books for this week’s assignment, I had so many books from which to choose sitting on the shelves in my house. WhIn exploring Caldecott Award-winning books for this week’s assignment, I had so many books from which to choose sitting on the shelves in my house. When I was in college (25 years ago), I simply fell in love with Caldecott Award books and bought as many as I could get my hands on. Until now, I didn’t know all that was considered when an illustrator received this award. All I knew is how much I loved the pictures that told the stories in these wonderful books. So, for this week, I want to share the book Hey, Al by Arthur Yorinks, illustrated by Richard Egielski. Hey, Al was published in 1986 and won the Caldecott Medal in 1987. Hey, Al is about a janitor named Al and his faithful dog Eddie, who live in Manhattan’s West Side. They work very hard and have a life full of struggles. Their apartment is very small and cramped and they find it difficult to appreciate what they have. Al and Eddie are offered an opportunity to move to Paradise, and they take it! Soon Al and Eddie discover that life in paradise may not be as great as they thought, and they work to get back home. Hey, Al was illustrated using watercolor prints. With the exception of the front and back cover art, which use a much brighter color palette than the pages inside, the pages have muted tones and subtle coloring. That being said, the initial pages of the story show the apartment where Al and Eddie live and it is almost a void of color in muted browns which demonstrates the struggle of life and dissatisfaction which Al and Eddie have. In Paradise, the foliage and birds are full of the colors of the rainbow. While these colors are still muted, they present with a brighter attitude, happiness and peacefulness. Texture is shown in the cracked, peeling ceiling in the bedroom and bathroom; the cracked, broken tiles of the bathroom; the hair on Al’s legs; the cracked grain of the door; and the feathers of the Paradise birds, all of which created a tactile experience for the reader to visually experience the book. Egielski use of line helps to demonstrate the depth of the jungle in Paradise and the movement of the water over the mini rapids in the stream in which Al bathes. In as much as Line shows us the depth of a jungle, we also see the tightness of the room in which Al and Eddie live, with bedposts which are not quite straight, cramping them into the tiny room. Shape is also used to create a feeling of a cramped, tiny, room where Al and Eddie return every day after working so hard. Neither show joy in their work, nor in their room which has limited space and clutter. The shape of the room is strongly contrasted in the openness of the rolling treetops of Paradise, which roll right back to a tall waterfall, which translates to large open spaces with plenty of room for Al to spread out, and for Eddie to run. The contrasts in the book between tight and open, cramped and expansive, forlorn and joyful are made wonderfully clear to the reader through Egielski’s illustrations. Hey, Al best fits the criteria for the Caldecott Award because of its pictorial interpretation of story, the appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, the delineation of theme through its pictures, and the recognition of the child audience. Al and Eddie feel very dissatisfied with their life, the struggles they have, the hard work they do, and the smallness of their one room home. Al is an unassuming man and simple man. The illustrations echo this by using the absence of flashy, bright colors in his room and continue using subdued color in Paradise, even though the reader is aware of color being brought into the pages. The illustrations also properly represent the emotions Al shows throughout the story: waiting in his room, happy in Paradise, sadness over the loss of Eddie, joy in their reunion, and potential in his new life as he brings part of Paradise into his little room with yellow paint. Hey, Al draws its audience into the pages by drawing portions of each illustration outside of the frame of the drawing. Egielski illustrates the tiny, cramped room which takes up the entire frame of the drawing. The door of the room serves as one side of the drawing space, helping the reader to visualize how small the space is. The reader is then drawn into the pages when they notice the pile of newspapers outside the door, or the door itself not quite fitting into the illustration frame. The reader becomes quickly aware of how small a space Al and Eddie are living. The theme of Hey, Al is “be thankful for what you have” and is strongly represented in the illustrations. On the last couple of pages Eddie, who was thought to be lost, returns and Al and Eddie are thankful to be reunited. This is shown through the emotion of their faces and the wag of Eddie’s tale. Finally, the last page shows Al and Eddie joyful in the small room where once they were only cramped and arguing. The illustrations on this last page in contrast to the first pages demonstrate the transition Al and Eddie have gone through throughout the story. Words are not necessary. ...more