Books by Diane Dillon

LOVE AND THE ROCKING CHAIR by Leo Dillon
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 15, 2019

"This quiet story exudes intergenerational love. (Picture book. 3-5)"
A multigenerational story about a beloved rocking chair that connects the members of one family. Read full book review >
I CAN BE ANYTHING! DON'T TELL ME I CAN'T by Diane Dillon
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 27, 2018

"Thoughtful and affirming. (Picture book. 4-8)"
A young girl of color challenges the voice of fear and dissent in Dillon's first solo picture book. Read full book review >
IF KIDS RAN THE WORLD by Diane Dillon
CHILDREN'S
Released: Aug. 26, 2014

"Well-meaning but saccharine and didactic. (Picture book. 4-8)"
Leo Dillon's last book with Diane Dillon imagines what the world would be like if children were in charge. Read full book review >
NEVER FORGOTTEN by Patricia C. McKissack
Released: Oct. 11, 2011

"A totally absorbing poetic celebration of loss and redemption. (author's note) (Picture book/poetry. 7-12)"
A searing cycle of poems describes a father's grief after his son is taken from their home in Mali and enslaved in America. Read full book review >
THE SECRET RIVER by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 4, 2011

There are no fish left in the rivers and streams; hard times have come to the forest, and everyone is poor and hungry. Calpurnia is determined to find fish for her father to sell in his shop. Mother Albirtha, the wisewoman, advises her to follow her nose to a secret river teeming with fish. She finds this amazing river and politely asks the fishes' permission to catch some of them. On her long journey home she shares her catch with several animals and, of course, Mother Albirtha. Father sells the fish for promises of payment, which are all fulfilled, and soft times come to the entire community. In this reworking of a classic tale, Rawlings' voice is warm and tender, employing lilting syntax and descriptive language that resonates with warmth and humor. Calpurnia is a sweet delight, at once poet and adventuress, whimsical and practical, filled with love and compassion. The Dillons' glorious, glowing earth-toned acrylic illustrations capture Calpurnia's spirit and soul and imbue the tale with images that are nothing short of breathtaking. Magical. (Picture book. 4-10)Read full book review >
THE GOBLIN AND THE EMPTY CHAIR by Mem Fox
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 22, 2009

An unspecified medieval setting, an outwardly grotesque creature who is tender and compassionate, sad humans beset by difficulties, three tasks performed by the hero and a moral about looking beyond appearances; all of these are familiar elements in the fairy-tale tradition. Fox is a master at crafting tales that linger in memory over time, gently adding to the canon of classics. Her text is full of imagery and repeats several lovely phrases, with the theme of gentle kindness permeating the carefully chosen language. The Dillons' signature style raises the level of achievement even higher. Each page is framed in three parts with the text at bottom, a central watercolor illustration of a key event and its concomitant strong emotion and a border strip depicting actions that immediately precede the text. Gargoyles mirroring the emotions of the characters peek from behind each frame. The family's despair is never explained, but there is a pictorial clue that young readers will understand. A perfect combination of words and images. (Picture book. 6-9)Read full book review >
MAMA SAYS by Rob D. Walker
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2009

Flawed but still impressive, this illustrated collection of brief snippets of advice will particularly appeal to progressive parents eager to foster understanding and compassion in their children. Beautifully composed and executed pictures in the Dillons' trademark style offer glimpses into the lives of mothers and sons from a variety of cultures. Translations of each seven-line verse into the language of the individuals depicted are included, as are endnotes identifying the various languages and where they are spoken. The weak link is the text. A singsong rhythm and relentless rhyme make it feel repetitive, while occasionally abstract counsel ("Happiness / Comes from inner peace" and "Success is when / You know you must endure") is unlikely to resonate with young listeners. Still, cherish this for the sentiment and overall presentation. (Picture book. 3-6)Read full book review >
MOTHER GOOSE: NUMBERS ON THE LOOSE by Leo Dillon
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2007

Long-limbed numbers and letters, anthropomorphic insects, stalwart vegetables, inventively dressed animals and other unusual creatures join multiethnic humans in a cheerful march to the irresistible rhythm of Mother Goose in this selection of numerical nursery rhymes. From the well known ("Baa, baa, black sheep," "1, 2, Buckle my shoe" and "Sing a song of sixpence") to the more obscure ("There were 2 wrens upon a tree," "Barber, barber, shave a pig" and "Little Blue Ben, who lives in the glen"), this assortment presents a nice sampling of the verses and updates a couple of them. The gorgeously rendered illustrations, replete with warmth and humor, highlight the buoyancy, catchiness and surreal nature of the verses and provide a reminder of why these rhymes have survived to be a favorite of children for countless generations. An appealing introduction to the world of Mother Goose and an excellent choice for young listeners and mathematicians alike. Includes a brief note on the history and selection of the rhymes. (Picture book. 3-6)Read full book review >
JAZZ ON A SATURDAY NIGHT by Leo Dillon
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2007

The Dillons deliver their take on one of children's publishing trends du jour. Imagining a "dream band" made of actual jazz greats—some of whom actually played together—the authors paint stylized, affectionate portraits of eight artists—including Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Ella Fitzgerald—playing in a room full of seated, enthralled fans, young and old. Below each double spread, couplets run across a uniform border of white space. The unremitting end rhymes sometimes subvert scansion, and the anonymous narrator's purported emotional involvement in the evening seems stilted. The choice of Stanley Clarke as the bass player seems odd, since he's more than a generation this side of the other musicians; and the "guest with guitar" is neither named nor featured in the backmatter's brief biographies. While the handsome paintings' fidelity to the musicians' likenesses is mainly irreproachable, the depictions of Ella vary considerably from spread to spread, never really capturing her essence. A CD (on which the authors introduce the instruments and a band and singer do the book's lyrics as a jazz tune) is included. (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
EARTH MOTHER  by Ellen Jackson
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2005

A wry and cosmic look at the interdependence of all things, wonderfully illustrated by the inimitable Dillons. Earth Mother arises, sings a morning song and does her work: hanging green acorns on the trees; putting summer inside a flower seed; sending forth lightning and snow. She meets Man by the river, who thanks her for the delicious frogs that ease his hunger. But why, asks Man, does she torment him with "wretched Mosquito?" When Earth Mother encounters Frog, he thanks her for Mosquito, who fills his belly, and castigates Man, who catches and eats frogs. As she continues to the ocean depths and meadows, she meets Mosquito, who is grateful for Man, "tender and delicious," and wishes there were no more frogs. Each watercolor-and-colored pencil image has its frame broken by a plant that springs from the bottom of the page: thistle, lily, lotus, rose. Mother Earth's garments are a gown the color of rich earth and an ever-changing tunic with patterns of cloud or leaf or starfish or peacock feather or African kente cloth. Curvilinear and geometric patterns shape the illustrations as Earth Mother moves from the savannah to the snows, from falling rain to falling fireflies. Beautiful and satisfying; its own teachable moment. (Picture book. 4-9)Read full book review >
THE PEOPLE COULD FLY by Virginia Hamilton
CHILDREN'S
Released: Nov. 9, 2004

"A dreamy, powerful picture-book tribute to both Hamilton and the generations-old story. (Picture book. 9-12)"
"They say the people could fly. Say that long ago in Africa, some of the people knew magic. And they would walk up on the air like climbin up on a gate." Read full book review >
ANIMALS
Released: Oct. 1, 2004

From the creators of The Girl Who Dreamed Only Geese (1997), a less ambitious outing: five tales from a workshop run by Norman (15 years ago), illustrated with art that tries to look like leaded stained glass. Except for "The Bird Who Sang Like a Warthog," which resembles Rodanas's The Blind Hunter (2003), the stories are new. A "Disobedient Daughter" forces Goolayyahlee the pelican to teach Aboriginal people how to make fishing nets; a "Beautiful Quail" survives a drought in Sri Lanka thanks to the kindness of others; and the transformation of residents of a remote Chinese village into swans when they die becomes "The Swan-Scholar's Great Secret." All told in the same formal, restrained tone, the tales receive individuality from the names of the characters, and also from evocative motifs in the stylized art—though the Dillons' use of a diffuse line makes the colors look watery. Norman identifies the original tellers in a long afterword that's more about the workshop than the stories. Though handsomely packaged, this pricey gathering won't draw or keep the interest of child readers or tellers. (Folktales. 8-11)Read full book review >
WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? by Margaret Wise Brown
ANIMALS
Released: May 1, 2004

The Dillons create an eldritch world for this philosophical rhyme, which was first published 50 years ago with misguidedly twee art by Barbara Cooney. An owl interviews a succession of creatures: "Little Old Cat / Little Old Cat / Where have you been? / To see this and that / Said the Little Old Cat / That's where I've been." Squirrel, Fish, Bird, Horse, Toad, and others—each shown running or swimming, traveling by often unusual means, or posing at a destination, accompanied by small, winged, green- or purple-skinned human figures—reply to Owl's queries in a similarly oblique vein. More polished than some of the fragmentary texts recently mined from Brown's archives, this combines soothing verbal and visual rhythms with a sense of mystery that will leave young readers or listeners spellbound. (Picture book. 5-7)Read full book review >
ONE WINTER’S NIGHT by John Herman
ANIMALS
Released: Sept. 1, 2003

In this poetic Christmas Eve tale, Martha, a young cow about to give birth, seeks shelter, just as Joseph leads Mary, who's in the same condition, on the same quest. After similar treks through a snowy night, mothers-to-be and parallel plotlines converge in a small shed for the timeless double miracle. Alternating monochromatic vignettes that resemble old-style etchings with larger scenes done with softened lines and muted colors, the Dillons elaborate on hints in the text to set the episode on an abandoned New England or Midwestern farm—relatively recently, to judge from such sparse, small details as a padlock and a cast-iron stove. Herman elevates the tone with occasional flights—"All was blackness. Darkest night. The winds fell from the four corners and shook the earth. Only the icy fire of the stars, distant and brilliant, kept watch in the darkness"—that complement the quiet strength of the illustrations. An old story, in an unusual setting. (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2002

A tribute to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson captures the rhythm of the famous tap dancing he did all over the city: in the street, behind doors that were both open and closed to him, in crowds, in upscale neighborhoods as well as "the skids," in the park, and ultimately, on stage. Watercolor illustrations in sophisticated shades of tan, plum, aqua, mustard, olive, rust, black, and gray recall the pre-WWII era in which Robinson lived and danced. The stylized figures, shown mostly in profile without detailed features, are reminiscent of Synthia Saint James's work and stand out cleanly against a bright white background. The contagious, joyful exhilaration of Bojangles's dance is conveyed through shadowy legs surrounding his real ones, as if the rapt onlookers' eyes could not keep up with his frenetic movement, as well as the rhyming text that begs to be read aloud and repeated. A note at the end explains who Bojangles was and includes fascinating information about his life and his talent, including the fact that no other dancer was ever able to repeat some of his more intricate steps. Spectacular, clear design includes spot varnish on the cover, highlighting the colorful type and figures against a matte white. This jazzy introduction to an important contributor to American culture will entrance the youngest music and dance fans. (Picture book. 3-7)Read full book review >
MANSA MUSA by Khephra Burns
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2001

Illustrated by the Dillons (Two Little Trains, p. 561, etc.) at their most magisterial, this original tale of the youth of Kankan Musa, the most renowned royal descendant of the great king of Mali, Sundiata, makes a grand, compelling, sumptuously presented narrative. Captured by slavers and sold to a wandering mystic, Kankan Musa spends seven years learning the ways of the desert, seeing the wonders of Egypt, and facing death in several forms as he grows in wisdom and inner strength. Returning home at last, he is welcomed with jubilance, and later begins a reign so dazzling that his fame spreads even to benighted Europe. Burns (Black Stars in Orbit, not reviewed) relates events in measured, oratorical prose. Matching his formality, the Dillons draw on Renaissance manuscript art for inspiration, placing small, richly clad, precisely detailed figures in front of land- or cityscapes seen in compressed perspective, opposite pages of text featuring illuminated initials and spaces filled out with patterned bars. The author distinguishes fact from fancy in an afterword, and closes with a booklist for readers eager to travel on. As much about Mansa Musa's inner journey to selfhood as his outer coming of age, this is a feast for the eye and spirit both. (Illustrated fiction. 10-12)Read full book review >
TWO LITTLE TRAINS by Margaret Wise Brown
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 31, 2001

Brown's adorable bouncing rhyme about trains has been inventively re-imagined by two award-winning illustrators. A silver "streamlined train" puffs off to the West, while a tiny toy train is its echo and shadow in a comfortable, warmly kid-inhabited home. When the silver train goes through the hill, the toy train chugs through a tunnel made of a book called Hills; the toy train climbs the mountain of the stair banister as the silver train climbs the mountains "beyond the plain"; and the silver train's track is echoed in the fringe of a rug for the toy. The Dillons illustrate both the charming domestic interiors and the sweep of landscape with elegant geometric forms, colors of great depth and richness, and their magical touch: the man in the moon is the "black man singing in the West." The relationship between the two trains is also illuminated on the cover, where, next to the silver train sits a set of luggage with a beribboned gift whose box is stamped with the image of the toy train. That box is unwrapped on the title and half-title pages. Often tending toward the lush and extravagant, here the artists have chosen exactly the right expression of pure and simple art to accompany the equally uncomplicated rhyme. Sure to delight yet another generation of children. (Picture book. 3-7)Read full book review >
THE GIRL WHO SPUN GOLD by Virginia Hamilton
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2000

Hamilton (Bluish, 1999, etc.) turns her elegant style to a West Indian-based version of the Rumpelstiltskin story. Out riding, Big King spies Quashiba, who, her mother told him, could spin a whole field of gold cloth. Taken by her beauty and her mother's boasting, he marries her—and after a year and a day locks her in a room to spin. Lit'mahn Bittyun, a horrid little creature with a long tail, a wooden leg, and sharp teeth, appears and promises to aid her for three nights. If she cannot guess his name after the third, he will turn her into a tiny, hideous being like himself. Quashiba grows angry with Big King for using her so ill, but on the second night, when they dine together, he tells of overhearing a funny little man singing his true name. Thus Quashiba bests Lit'mahn, who explodes "in a million bitty flecks of gold." (It's three years, though, before she forgives Big King.) The Dillons (To Every Thing There Is a Season, 1998, etc.) have taken their hieratic and magical style to new heights here, overlaying pattern after pattern of cloth, drapery, and architectural detail. Burnished color is lavishly overlaid with gold, heightening visual intensity to a fever pitch. The nasty little man is particularly effective, limned as carefully as a poisoned jewel box. (Picture book/fairy tale. 5-9)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1998

The Dillons illustrate the familiar verses of Ecclesiastes in the King James version, one spread for every double-edged phrase, e.g., "a time to mourn, and a time to dance." They have taken inspiration for these gouache, acrylic, watercolor, and ink paintings the great art of the world; the opening image is based on the Book of Kells; among other styles used are Japanese ukiyo-e, Greek red-and-black pottery, kiva painting, medieval woodcuts, Russian icons, and Thai shadow plays. Every one is executed with meticulous precision and great feeling; all are annotated at the end. This is a gift book in the best sense, to be read often; if children don't respond immediately to its overall formality, they will surely find pages to pore over herein. (Picture book. 9+) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

This collection is not only the handsomest gathering of Inuit folktales ever, but one that will bring readers as close to a living oral tradition as printed material can. After working with folklorists and Inuit storytellers, Norman recasts ten stories from every corner of this widespread culture. While versions of several stories appeared in his Northern Tales (1990), they will be new to young readers. Most have a humorous cast: A shaman enrages a rude visitor with a succession of hilarious, earthy insults; stubborn Uteritsoq ignores good advice and has his "stomach guts" stolen by a moon spirit; when the Ark becomes locked in Hudson Bay ice, a crabby Noah refuses to have anything to do with the local villagers, and so is forced to eat many of his animals—plus a woolly mammoth that comes on board. Between each tale's two or three magical, formal, full-page paintings, the Dillons recapitulate events in a small black-and-white running frieze, composed of human and animal figures done in a style evocative of Inuit art. A pleasure to see, to hold, and to read—this is elegant bookmaking matched to entertaining, perceptive storytelling. Story notes appended. (Folklore. 9+)Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1995

A volume with as broad appeal as Hamilton's The People Could Fly (1985). All the stories collected feature females, but there similarities end; a variety of ordinary girls and women, her-vampires, mermaids, and witches inhabit humorous and frightening folktales, accounts of life in slavery taken from oral history collections, and elaborate fairy tales incorporating elements from many traditions into solid, African-American renderings. Hamilton divides the collection into "Her Animal Tales," "Her Fairy Tales," Her Supernatural," "Her Folkways and Legends," and "Her True Tales." Comments follow each story, offering insights and assurances of authenticity; source notes appear in the back. The Dillons bring luster to an already wonderful project, with polished acrylic portraits on creamy backgrounds; the pictures envelop the mythic aspects of the tales without abandoning their roots in ordinary human experience. It's hard to envision the shelf—children's or adults'—on which this volume doesn't belong. (Folklore. 7+)Read full book review >
THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE by Nancy Willard
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 1993

In the spirit of Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch (1991, ALA Notable), a reworking of a tale popularized, as explained here, by the poet Goethe as well as by Dukas, whose music fueled the Disney version. The apprentice Sylvia's task is to make garments for the Boschian menagerie of fantastical animals that live in the magician Tottibo's castle; the enchanted tool that erupts out of her control is a sewing machine. Willard's narrative is such an undisciplined cascade of verse that it rivals earlier versions' floods; though the language is musical, and the detail frequently witty, it's an outpouring in need of more judicious channeling. Still, the Dillons have good fun visualizing this torrent of description, slyly tucking faces into architectural details and creating an amusing gallery of mischievous grotesques; the gold-bordered art is rendered with their usual taste and skill. Not a landmark, despite the creators' credentials, but fun. (Picture book. 5-10)Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 1993

Taking as her theme the "joyous anthem of freedom," beginning with "No more auction block for me," Hamilton samples documented African-American lives from 1619 through the Civil War. Grouping 34 accounts under three headings—"Slavery in America," "Running-Aways," "Exodus to Freedom"—she offers telling vignettes in roughly chronological order, deftly sketching indomitable people valiantly endeavoring to escape. Restricting herself to almost unembellished historical record, Hamilton presents what is known with a cool austerity that makes her subtext even more forceful: though the injustices are representative, these lives are exceptional in having left traces, however meager. The anecdotal fragments are masterfully chosen to illustrate the cruel commonplace, as well as to rehearse pivotal events (Dred Scott) and examine extremes (caught by a posse, Margaret Garner killed her beloved daughter in order to keep her from slavery). As always, Hamilton's prose is concise, lucid, and fresh (Henry Brown's owner "thought Henry to be happily humble, slow to think and act, inferior in all ways. But Henry was watchful and quick-witted, ever hopeful..."). Along with a splendid jacket of runaways emerging into a dawn of hope, the Dillons provide powerful b&w illustrations of heroic figures of monumental simplicity, handsomely set in dramatically spare compositions. A compelling book, outstanding in every way. (Nonfiction. 9+)Read full book review >
NORTHERN LULLABY by Nancy White Carlstrom
Released: Oct. 21, 1992

In gently cadenced verse, Carlstrom personifies features of the natural world and animals of the Far North as family members to whom a Native American child speaks: "Goodnight Grandma River/Frozen below/With lullaby ripples/of pale gleaming light...Goodnight Sister Owl/Quiet your cry,/Fold the night sky close/under dark feathers." From Papa Star and Mama Moon, the poet moves to mountains and trees, creatures great and small, and back to the northern lights as the child sleeps. The Dillons respond imaginatively to the text in magnificent full-bleed spreads, the text in a harmoniously proportioned side margin. Their designs are exquisitely simple: crisply cut areas of slightly modulated color combine to create stylized forms and landscapes. Many of the motifs—fringe, bear claw, wing—refer to Native American art. Set within the serene compositions, each being has a human face and hands—beautifully formed, sculptural, yet imbued with a wise and humorous glow. Outstanding in every way; this stunningly handsome art already has a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators. (Picture book. 2+)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1991

Bosch, the late-medieval Dutch artist, painted extraordinary surreal scenes, their whimsical details meticulously depicted. Willard imagines that Bosch's house is crowded with his own fantastical creatures, driving his housekeeper wild with :three- legged thistles asleep in my wash" and a dragon to "wrestle...to get to my sink"; meanwhile, the insouciant Hieronymus gazes abstractedly at the mayhem, palette in hand. The housekeeper flees, only to find that she misses the excitement; fortunately, her trunk contains some of the weird creations, including a "pickle-winged fish" on which she rides home to a loving welcome and the promise of more help—''till death do us part'' (a mellower feminist message than that in Anthony Browne's Piggybook, 1986, and even more imaginative). Willard wraps this gossamer plot in enchantingly musical, comical verse ("In this vale of tears we must take what we're sent,/Feathery, leathery, lovely, or bent"). The Dillons now include son Lee, who provides an elaborate frame sculpted in silver, brass, and bronze for the paintings, to which he also contributed. His bronze figures peer in astonishment at the marvelous action within the frame, painted with a Bosch-like precision and irrepressible invention; additional drawings and a beautifully hand-lettered text also contribute to the lovely, spacious format. Like Bosch's menage, this may not suit quite everyone; but, for those with minds and hearts open to its wit, artistry, and merriment, a rare delight. (Picture book. 4+)Read full book review >
THE RACE OF THE GOLDEN APPLES by Claire Martin
Released: Sept. 1, 1991

Abandoned by her father because she's not a boy, the infant princess Atalanta becomes the protege of the goddess Diana and is raised by a bear, learning to outdistance all the forest creatures. Returning (in the more familiar part of this Greek myth) to her father's court, she vows to marry only a man who is swifter than she is. In Martin's cleanly told version, Atalanta's love for Hippomenes is the reason she accepts the lure of Venus's apples, letting him win the race as she retrieves them. The Dillons provide an elegant setting: their formal borders and decorative vignettes have the aura and glow of stained glass; costumes, settings, and the patterns that adorn every page are a creative blend of the Greek, medieval, and purely imaginative. The animals are tactile-lovely; Atalanta herself is a pert gamine, a haughty princess—and a sturdy, Olympic-class runner. A handsome update of a grand story. (Mythology. 5+)Read full book review >
THE PEOPLE COULD FLY by Virginia Hamilton
Released: Oct. 21, 1985

"Though flawed, it brings a good sampling of lore from the past to a new generation of readers. (Folktales. 8-12)"
The combination of Newbery winner Hamilton and the Dillons, two-time Caldecott Medalists, raises high expectations. Read full book review >