JOHN COLTRANE’S GIANT STEPS

In a picture book that is simultaneously simpler and much more abstract than his earlier celebrations of Charlie Parker (Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, 1992) and Thelonious Monk (Mysterious Thelonious, 1997), Raschka attempts to depict visually saxophone great John Coltrane’s “marvelous and tricky composition,” “Giant Steps.” A hip, avuncular narrator greets readers and then introduces the performers: a box, a snowflake (rendered as two, overlapping, squashy triangles), a raindrop, and a trademark Raschka kitten. The geometric shapes appear in translucent pastel watercolors; the kitten is outlined in dark gray with swift brushstrokes. The “characters” layer themselves over one another to create colorful “sheets of sound” to the accompaniment of narrative interpolations: “Hello, snowflake. Our snowflake is taking the piano part tonight, / showing us the harmony, the beautiful frame. Niceness.” This layering manages uncannily to deliver a visual approximation of the layers of sound in the composition; the kitten in particular, with her sometimes swoopy, sometimes angular lines that dart across the page, evokes the complex melodic line with its runs and stops, her onomatopoetic “Meow!” echoing the sound of the sax. This offering differs from the two previous in that it seeks to deliver a purely visual representation of sound with no melodic textual accompaniment, and once the characters are set up, there isn’t anywhere to go. The narrative constructs a sonic/visual train wreck of sorts, in which the characters lose control of the music. There follows a diagram of the “problem,” with circles and arrows to point out where each player got it wrong: “Now box, box, my friend. Much too heavy on page 18. I know you’re our foundation and you’ve got to be strong. But can you be strong yet light? Hmmmmm? Try.” This hiatus approaches preciousness, and while it gives the narrative an opportunity to discuss Coltrane’s genius, it does exactly what “Giant Steps” does not—it causes the piece to lose its momentum. Raschka has set the bar high for himself: conceptually, this interpretation nears brilliance, but in the end it loses control. Nevertheless: a fascinating and ambitious attempt to render the purely aural in a purely visual form. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-689-84598-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Richard Jackson/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2002

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Thank you, Gerald and Piggie. We’ll miss you

THE THANK YOU BOOK

From the Elephant & Piggie series

Piggie is “one lucky pig,” and she’s determined to make sure she thanks “everyone who is important to” her in this, the final Elephant & Piggie book.

Gerald is sure his friend will forget someone—“someone important”—but Piggie assures him, “It will be a THANK-O-RAMA!” Piggie proceeds to thank the Squirrels for their great ideas, Snake for playing ball, and the Pigeon “for never giving up.” Piggie thanks and thanks: “I am a thanking machine!” She thanks character after character, even the Flies (“Any time, dude!”), as Gerald continues to interject that she’ll forget “someone VERY important.” Finally Piggie runs out of thanks, and by this time Gerald is steamed. “I goofed,” Piggie says in itty-bitty type, before lavishing thanks on Gerald. But that’s not whom Piggie forgot to thank! A classic Willems tantrum later, Gerald reveals the “someone important”: “Our reader.” Of course. “We could not be ‘us’ without you,” says Gerald, earnestly looking out from the page, and Piggie chimes in, “You are the best!” As Elephant & Piggie books go, this isn’t one of the strongest, but it is a validating valediction to fans of the two characters, who have won Willems two Geisel Medals and five Honors. Yes, Gerald and Piggie have ushered countless readers into literacy, but as they rightly note, reading is a collaborative act.

Thank you, Gerald and Piggie. We’ll miss you . (Early reader. 5-8)

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4231-7828-6

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2016

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Sweet—and savory.

THE KEEPER OF WILD WORDS

When a girl visits her grandmother, a writer and “grand friend,” she is seeking something special to share at show and tell on the first day of school.

Before Brook can explain, Mimi expresses concern that certain words describing the natural world will disappear if someone doesn’t care for and use them. (An author’s note explains the author’s motivation: She had read of the removal of 100 words about outdoor phenomena from the Oxford Junior Dictionary.) The duo sets out to search for and experience the 19 words on Mimi’s list, from “acorn” and “buttercup” to “violet” and “willow.” Kloepper’s soft illustrations feature green and brown earth tones that frame the white, matte pages; bursts of red, purple, and other spot colors enliven the scenes. Both Mimi and Brook are depicted as white. The expedition is described in vivid language, organized as free verse in single sentences or short paragraphs. Key words are printed in color in a larger display type and capital letters. Sensory details allow the protagonist to hear, see, smell, taste, and hold the wild: “ ‘Quick! Make a wish!’ said Mimi, / holding out a DANDELION, / fairy dust sitting on a stem. / ‘Blow on it and the seeds will fly. / Your tiny wishes in the air.’ ” It’s a day of wonder, with a touch of danger and a solution to Brook’s quest. The last page forms an envelope for readers’ own vocabulary collections.

Sweet—and savory. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4521-7073-2

Page Count: 62

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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