Picture books are a wonderful place to explore ideas of the wild. Some of the most memorable have done so — from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are to Lois Ehlert’s Leaf Man to the current Caldecott winner, Matthew Cordell’s Wolf in the Snow. Such books are especially inspiring for children who live in the deepest of suburbia and may be their only lifeline to what happens in the great outdoors.
Maria Gianferrari’s Hawk Rising, illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Brian Floca, incorporates an effective second-person voice (“High from the window you watch”) to put readers right in the center of this story of a somewhat suburban flavor of wild. Father Hawk is the star of the show, Floca rendering him, Mother Hawk, and their nest of chicks in graceful earth-toned watercolors.
The “you” Floca chooses to illustrate for the pages of the story is a young girl with her younger sister. They spot the hawk in their neighborhood; he sits atop a telephone pole. Gianferrari, often writing in bursts of concise, evocative sentences, marks the wonder that is the observant older girl noticing the bird in the first place. (She finds binoculars pretty easily, so we guess she’s probably fond of regularly watching these birds.) Father Hawk seeks prey in order to feed his chicks, circling the houses as he does so. “He rides the wind / like a wave, / twisting and turning / kiting and floating,” writes Gianferrari. (Kiting, you learn in the book’s backmatter, is when a hawk flies in place, facing into the wind.)
He tries to capture, with his curving black talons, a chipmunk, who darts under a neighbor’s porch, as well as sparrows, who are ultimately saved by the bramble of the tree in which they sit. The squirrel he finds, however, is not so lucky. In a spread during which Floca simultaneously captures the majesty and agony of a hawk catching its prey, we see him grab the rodent. All the while, the two girls watch, wait, and wonder, the younger girl often looking wonderingly at her older sister, who is clearly the one driving this spot-the-hawk adventure. She even puts her arm around her younger sister, who seems alarmed to see the hawk carry the squirrel through the air as the sun sets.
When the author draws a parallel at the book’s close between the humans and birds —“Through the night, safe in your nests, you and the Hawk family sleep . . . .” — readers will be left wondering about the other ways in which the creatures are alike. The next day, we see that it’s the younger sister with the binoculars in hand this time, her older sister over her shoulder, guiding her. Both are now ready to see the broad-winged, elegant creature again.
“Are you brave?” asks David Covell in his ecstatic Run Wild, released earlier this month, in which a boy and a girl race through the pages from beginning to end, relishing in the wild of the outdoors. “Hey, you. Sky’s blue!” the book opens, as an unnamed narrator invites readers into wildness. The book’s verse is jubilant, economical, and punchy, begging to be read aloud.
In full-bleed spreads with loose lines and abundant energy (some moments in the book bring to mind the gestural drawings of the great Chris Raschka), the children race a rabbit, get dirty, sink their feet in the mud, roar like bears, run into the water along the shore, swim, float on the water, run through the rain, and even howl at the moon. Some spreads showcase generous white space, the children playing with watercolor splashes suggesting mood and color; others are filled with abundant color, such as the spread of the boy running through a forest (“All day long, the sun’s gonna smile”), with browns and greens all about.
The children’s energy is an unbridled one; it simply cannot be contained. They still race through the book’s final pages — and even through the final endpapers — with an utter surrender to any sense of moderation or restraint. It’s an electric book. Where they will end up is left to the imagination of readers, but both readers and the characters within will surely be out of breath when they get there.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
HAWK RISING. Text copyright © 2018 by Maria Gianferrari. Illustration copyright © 2018 by Brian Floca and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Roaring Brook Press, New York.
RUN WILD. Copyright © 2018 by David Covell. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, Viking/Penguin Young Readers, New York.