The Newbery Medal for children’s literature and the Caldecott Medal for most distinguished picture book are the Big Bang of the children’s book world — they’re the Nobel, the Pulitzer, the pot of gold at the end of an author’s rainbow. The prizes, awarded annually by the American Library Association, are so esteemed as a guarantee of reading pleasure that the chosen books are snatched up from bookstore shelves within days of the ALA’s announcements. ”The standard wisdom in the industry is that as soon as you put that gold seal on the book jacket, you’re guaranteed sales of at least 100,000 copies,” says Diane Roback, children’s book editor at Publishers Weekly. ”That seal is a stamp of approval for parents and librarians.”
This year’s winners — Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Tuesday by David Wiesner — live up to their laurels.
Tuesday, the Caldecott-winning picture book, is a pure, exhilarating flight of playful fantasy. David Wiesner’s text is the barest minimum, pinning the story to plausible reality. ”Tuesday evening, around eight,” reads the first line, matter-of-factly enough. The setting is a swamp. Frogs doze on their lily pads. Suddenly, the pads lift up into the air like little green magic carpets.
The frogs are startled, then anticipatory, then wildly gleeful as their unlikely flotilla swoops through the blue evening and into town.
Wiesner endows his bumpy bullfrogs with such uncannily expressive eyes and mouths that we don’t need another word of text to let us share their laugh-out-loud adventures. They collide comically with a clothesline, zoom into a living room where they goggle at TV for a while (those long tongues have no trouble with the remote-control channel changer) and smugly dive-bomb a menacing dog.
Wiesner varies the pace of his story by means of clever shifts in scale and perspective, from comic-strip panels to panoramas of serenely glowing surrealism. His depiction of the antic frogs is dazzlingly convincing: They look so realistic, and yet so perfectly human. Every picture brims not only with sharply observed small jokes but also with giddy good humor.
When dawn comes, the magic ends. The frogs are unceremoniously dumped back into their pond, leaving the road littered with mysterious lily pads for the police to puzzle over. But the hilarity of imaginary flight isn’t over. Next Tuesday, at 7:58 p.m…is that a pig we see levitating from the barnyard? A+