It's Children's Authors and Illustrators Week!
by Jill Macchiaverna, book lover
What was your favorite book when you were a kid? I encourage you to make a special consideration to share it with someone this week. The first week of February is Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week!
The Children’s Authors Network has many great ideas for how to celebrate the week. For my celebration, I’d like to share with you an author and illustrator whose books I was introduced to in 2020, and now he’s easily one of my favorites. (I know. I have hundreds of favorites.)
I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of Dan Santat before last year. I blame the rock under which I’ve been living. Santat is incredibly talented and profusely prolific, even working for/with Disney. I first read After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again as part of a class assignment on children’s literature. Then I read it again and again and again.
In the book, Humpty Dumpty is a famous bird watcher who falls off a great wall while staring at the feathered fliers. He develops a fear of heights. He consoles himself by bird watching from the ground and making paper airplanes that look like birds. When his favorite plane gets stuck at the top of the wall where he fell, he musters all his bravery to climb back up. At the top, he hatches into a bird and flies away. It’s such a brilliant, beautiful take on a (kind of depressing if you think about it) classic that I ended the book surprised that no one else had ever thought of having Humpty Dumpty hatch into something new before.
In case I haven’t spoiled the book for you enough, how about an itemized examination of my favorite illustrative elements? (No matter how much I tell you, the book cannot be spoiled. It is too good.)
Examining Artistic Elements
Line – Humpty is a round egg in a world of straight lines and sharp edges. Walls, ladders, streets, buildings, telephone wires, paper airplanes are all fixed and rigid, while Humpty remains soft and round. The only subtle relaxation of line in the background is on the birds illustrated on the wire and in the air.
Space – Santat uses a very cinematic pattern of close-ups, medium, and wide-shots of Humpty and other important items.
Texture – There is so much texture in this book. The softness of the blended colors and the rigidness of the lines and thickness of the vines and the roundness of Humpty and the use of contrasting light and dark until some parts of the illustrations positively glow.
Color – The colors in this book are warm and encouraging. It’s like there’s a rainbow filter over some illustrations.
Literary and Artistic Interplay
Line – Santat uses the contrast in lines to set round Humpty apart from his linear environment, communicating that our hero doesn’t fit in with his world. Humpty’s universe is very rigid, and he is very soft. The way Humpty narrates in the beginning shows us he is in a very fragile mental state as well. The panel that illustrates this perfectly is the one where Humpty is sleeping on the floor instead of in his loft bed.
Space – Santat’s framing in each panel syncs with the focus of the narration in each panel with storyboard-like perfection. A good example is the page where Humpty narrates, “I didn’t look up. I didn’t look down. I just kept climbing. One step at a time…” and the illustration is a close-up of Humpty’s hands reaching up the ladder, with the city small in the background.
Texture – The best example of texture that supports the storytelling is when Humpty is back on top of the wall, saying, “…until I was no longer afraid.” We have the glowing victory of soft, round Humpty, surrounded by soft birds, with the sun behind them infusing them with light, almost as if you were holding an egg up to an incubator light. The soft light spills over the top of the hard edges, straight ladder, and thick vines on the dark wall. It’s a page of pure victory.
Color – The use of light and dark leads to spotlighting of important story elements, creating a glow on some of the most inspiring elements, like on Humpty’s wings at the end. The colors and the storytelling remind the reader that there is always a bright spot to focus on.
For more ways to celebrate Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week, ReadWriteThink.org has ideas for the classroom. The book spotlight BooksAreWings.org did last year is still a great list (with Santat right on top!). Finally, here is a great new list of Notable Books for a Global Society 2021 Award Winners:
(I love that we are seeing so many new stories told in voices that we haven’t been hearing from exhaustively for the last 2,000 years.)
But the best way to celebrate? Probably just sharing a soul soothing, laughter inducing, eye crossing, mind blowing children’s book with someone.