A son tells of his mother’s new job cutting stone for “Big John,” New York City’s yet-unfinished Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
He focuses his mother’s experiences at the cathedral through his own lens: She comes home covered in gray dust after daily labor on a single stone. Is his mother’s work like an artist’s, whose pictures hang in the museum? When the family visits Big John’s stone yard and soaring interiors, he understands that her contribution—painstakingly crafted, yet so small—will take its place “high above the people, Momma’s stone touching the sky.” Drawing from historical details about a 25-year apprenticeship program begun in 1982, Rockliff’s lyrical text celebrates collaboration and communion, whether as voices rising in a cathedral hymn or among the skilled workers who labored over more than a century. Low (Old Penn Station, 2007) renders many gorgeous digital spreads, articulating the extraordinary light and deep shadows within and outside the architecturally splendid cathedral. Combining the look of thick, fuzzy-edged pastel on paper with gouache on textured board, the illustrations are less successful in the figurative depictions. Awkwardly drawn shoes, feet and legs, along with some variation in the appearance of the daughter, are minor distractions from the overall strong visual appeal.
An intriguing examination of the inside story of one of New York City’s most important and beloved monuments. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-8)