What do the three picture books in this column today have in common? Nothing, really. Except that they are all August releases. That’s about it. I couldn’t decide which one to write about, so I’ll tell you a bit about all three. It’s that simple.
Sound like a plan? Good.
First up is Jacqueline Woodson’s This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration, illustrated by James Ransome and set to be released in a few weeks. Though it’s a work of fiction, Woodson pays tribute to her own family members who once left the oppressive conditions for African Americans in the South to seek a better life in the North. She notes that from the early 1900s till the late ’70s, more than 6 million African Americans migrated in this manner and that her own family ended up settling in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. She opens the book with her grandmother as a child, finding a rope beneath a tree near her South Carolina home. That rope travels with her family up North and is passed down through decades to various family members, the rope itself—as Woodson explicitly writes in an opening Author’s Note—a metaphor for “Hope.” Woodson writes with warmth and affection, and Ransome’s rich illustration capture, with period details as the years pass, abundant familial devotion and tenderness.
Seeing its release around the same time will be a (mostly) wordless import from Enchanted Lion Books, Øyvind Torseter’s The Hole. The star of this book is one, small, die-cut hole that works its way through the book’s center, the illustrations accommodating it and putting it to use to tell the story. I’ve found a hole in my apartment, and it keeps moving, the protagonist complains to an unknown entity on the phone. “Take it with me … to you? How … Hello?” the call concludes. Having fun with perspective and composition choices, Torseter has the poor fellow struggle to capture the hole, eventually heading out with it in a box (or so he thinks?) for testing at a lab. The hole, naturally, manifests itself in many ways throughout the story—the wheel on a tire, a stoplight, the moon in the sky, even a nostril—as our determined main character makes his way across the city. Torseter’s uncluttered line drawings are wry, and there’s understated humor at the book’s close, as the poor guy falls asleep without the knowledge that the hole is in the precise spot on the wall as it was in the morning. Off-the-wall (so to speak) and seriously fun, this story is one to give a child of any age for exploring and pondering.
Finally, already out on shelves is Anna Harwell Celenza’s Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre, illustrated by JoAnn E. Kitchel. This book, accompanied by a CD of the piece from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, tells the story of composer Camille Saint-Saëns’ inspiration for the famous tone poem, Danse Macabre. It’s a dark fall night in 1872, and he and his friend head below the streets of Paris to an underground cemetery, looking for inspiration. “Imagine if [these bones] suddenly came to life!” he tells his friend; thus begins his brainstorming for what would become a masterpiece, a waltz of the dead for orchestras all over the world. The story, “[b]ased on historical fact,” tells in detail the evolution of the musical piece and includes a detailed Author’s Note. Kitchel’s illustrations in this new entry in a music appreciation series from Charlesbridge, all titles penned by Celenza, aren’t afraid to spook; she gives way, as you can see on the cover, to dancing, floating skeletons, who revel in the music, making this one a fitting title for Halloween, come October.
Perhaps next week I will have settled on one picture book. Until then, enjoy reading!
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.