The Funny Little Woman. by Arlene Mosel, illustrated by Blair Lent. Published 1972. Caldecott Medal 1973. Puffin. ISBN: 9780140547535
When an old woman’s rice dumpling goes missing, she has to venture into the world of the oni to get it back. The monsters she encounters are actually pretty scary-looking - even more so than Sendak’s wild things! - but the woman’s bravery knows no bounds, and in the end she outsmarts them all and becomes more successful than ever before! The illustrations are very similar to the ones in Tikki Tikki Tembo, since both are done by the same artist. What I like about these, though, is how Lent keeps us ever-aware of the fact that the woman is underground by drawing her home in black and white and showing only the world of the oni in color. It’s a neat technique and does a great job of keeping the reader aware of what’s happening, and of the woman’s desire to get home, in a subconscious way.
Bambino the Clown by Georges Schreiber. Published 1947. Caldecott Honor 1948. Viking Children's Books. ISBN: 9780670147564
While I appreciate the beauty of the illustrations in this book, the story itself didn’t really do much for me. I was a bit weirded out by how comfortable Peter was with talking to a strange man and going home with him to learn clowning, and I was equally puzzled when that relationship, between the clown and his apprentice, didn’t become the central focus of the book. I loved the painting where Bambino falls from his tower of tables and chairs. It conveys a great sense of movement and sound at the same time, and requires no words to describe what is happening. Unfortunately, the text wasn’t nearly as nuanced or exciting.
The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Stephen Gammell. Published 1985. Caldecott Honor 1986. Aladdin. ISBN: 9780689717383
This book is a childhood favorite of mine, but I’m sad to admit that the story isn’t as good as I remember. I think I actually imagined more of a story in my head based on the illustrations which really fleshed out what is otherwise very bland text. It’s probably this very quality - that the illustrations tell stories not conveyed by the text - that caused it to win a Caldecott Honor in the first place. I love the crowded scenes filled with loving, active relatives, and even as an adult, I still like looking over the illustrations, looking at all the details of their clothes, food, tools, and musical instruments. I am also fond of the recurring image of the grapes growing in Virginia, which is used to indicate how much time has passed while the relatives have visited. It’s an especially nice touch that the last page of the book shows nothing more than a bunch of ripening grapes.
The Faithful Friend by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Published 1995. Caldecott Honor 1996. Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 9780027861310
I was surprised by how much I liked this strange little book about a friend who does everything he can to save his friend and his intended bride from a zombie curse. It involves just enough supernatural elements to be creepy, but it also seems completely plausible. I love the Caribbean setting and the incorporation of the language of the West Indies. This would be a great read-aloud for some of the older elementary groups who visit my library, and it will add some diversity to my repertoire. I will definitely visit this one again in the near future.