When the Mock Caldecott election rolls around every year in school and public libraries, it's fun to to imagine the conversations taking place about the varied techniques employed by the illustrators in the rendering of their pictures. Each year within my own building the discussions were lively about color, composition, detail, how skillful the particular artist was with their medium of choice and how the visuals contributed to and enhanced the storyline. Once an explanation was offered about the means used by an illustrator to create their visuals, it was exciting to see the look of wonder on the students' faces.
1994 Caldecott Honor award winner, Denise Fleming. With nineteen books to her credit including the newest title, underGround (Beach Lane Books, September 18, 2012), her work is easily recognizable and distinctive. As described in the verso:
The illustrations were created by pulp painting---a papermaking technique using colored cotton fiber poured through hand-cut stencils. Accents were added with pastel pencil and copy transfer.
High in the branches of a tree a robin watches rabbits on a garden plot. He swoops down among the carrot tops spying a worm to tug up. On the dirt beetles and ants are crawling as grubs nestle beneath the soil.
On top a rabbit munches as a mole meanders below. A small child examines ants as readers see all the activity he cannot. Chipmunks carry a feast of nuts to their tunnels as a groundhog snacks on a grassy treat.
As the story proceeds a mixture of animals above and below are highlighted busily going about their day. The child's dog buries a bone among others deeper down. A cherry tree is planted, carrots are picked and the two companions scamper away.
Denise Fleming's skill at using the least amount of words for the biggest impact is highly evident in this book. Her crisp phrases relying on alliteration and rhyme convey constant motion. It's like she's issued an invitation to everyone, "Come closer...look here, over there. Now, put on these special glasses. Can you see beneath the above? It's full of life, too." When her three closing sentences match the first three, the circle is complete, but continuing.
The array of energetic greens and browns with touches of royal blue, orange and brilliant red shown on the jacket and cover are carried throughout the book. Identical opening and closing endpapers are textured with marbled layers of dirt, lost treasures strewn about; a thimble, a bit of chain and a wrench. A turn of page begins the story as the title, author and publishing information is shown underground with the rabbits in the garden greenery above, ants and bees joining them.
Another page turn shows a child and their dog running toward a red wheelbarrow carrying trees for planting; more publication informationis tucked on the far left side. Page after page reveals lush portrayals beginning on the left spreading across to the right, bleeding out to the edges, for the entire book. Perspective, detail and the texture of the pictures make you want to reach out and participate with more than your eyes.
At the story's completion Fleming takes readers on a short informative tour, Creature Identification. Twenty-one small, captioned pictures set against a rusty, pebbled background feature additional facts about the critters found in this book. It's the final jewel in a treasure chest filled to the brim.
Denise Fleming's gift is to draw our attention, to focus, on a specific aspect of our world. In underGround we are able to view the activity of above and below at the same time with an uncommon closeness. This title is another example of why most of her titles have found a place on my personal shelves.
Enjoy the book trailer.
I've used this video with great success, especially the part where she takes viewers into her studio
to demonstrate the pulp painting process. It is nearly forty minutes in length.