April 12, 2016

Stepping out of the Shadows

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Today we're talking about shadows in picturebooks. While picturebook illustrations are generally known for being inviting and colorful, shadows make the illustrations more mysterious and serve to show readers the dark side of the world they live in. Shadows are reserved for the nighttime and the unknown, so a picturebook that visually focuses on shadows is a great place for characters to have dark adventures and explore things they wouldn't normally do in the light of day. In these books the shadows becomes their own characters, representing our dark sides, the parts that remain hidden and tucked away.

You can't write about shadows and not talk about Suzy Lee's wordless masterpiece Shadow.

Lee's book is the epitome of how a shadow can represent the dark side, and how quickly the dark side can suck you in. The design of the book is unparalleled: Lee's book flips open vertically so that the verso page has the "girl's" world and the recto has the shadows' world. The two remain separate (they are shadows after all) in the beginning of the story as the girl experiments with the light around her and the shapes she can make with the objects in the room. Readers will get sucked into the girl's world from the endpapers, which are black with only the word "click" on them, as though someone is turning on a light.

By the time you hit the title page, you realize the story has already started: we meet meet our protagonist face to face and see that she is in some sort of a garage or storage room surrounded by objects and their shadows that will inevitably become a part of her imaginary world.

As the little girl's shadows shift and change and her imagination begins to run wild, the shadows begin to morph into dark animals like wolves and alligators, but it doesn't stop there. Suddenly the shadows begin to morph on their own, no longer bound to their original forms, and then darkness quite literally takes over, pulling the girl down into the recto page.

The only color used other than black is a yellow that begins to grow in the shadow world and eventually spreads to the girl's world. The illustrations are rendered in charcoal, pencil, watercolor, and spray paint with digital alterations, and they are simply breathtaking.

Let's move on to The Queen's Shadow: A Story About How Animals See by Cyb√®le Young.

I really struggled with this book. It focuses primarily on eyes across the animal kingdom and how they capture light. It's a nonfiction book, so of course part of its job is to convey scientific information in a new and interesting way, but as a read aloud it's just too long and too wordy: on top of all the expositional text--which is super wordy on its own--there are also text boxes with scientific information. The idea is that the Queen is throwing a party when suddenly her shadow disappears.

It's up to her and her party guests to uncover who could have stolen her shadow based on how their eyes function. What really saves it for me (and why I'm writing about it at all) are the illustrations:

They're gorgeous, just like everything Young does. Her illustrations are rendered in pen and ink and then colored digitally, giving them a crisp, clean but extremely detailed look. Young pulls back from the darkness of the pen and ink--a lot of which is used as crosshatches or stippling--and fills in details with muted colors to make each illustration come to life. In essence, worth it for the illustrations, maybe not so much for the text.

Next up is The Black Rabbit Philippa Leathers is the story of Rabbit. Rabbit wakes up one day to find a huge rabbit he's never seen before named Black Rabbit.

Black Rabbit never speaks and never moves unless Rabbit does, causing Rabbit to fear for his safety. Kids will chuckle knowing that Black Rabbit is actually Rabbit's shadow, and the best part is that it makes sense! If you're a baby and you've never seen your shadow or your reflection, it can undoubtedly be a little startling.

We get the sense that Rabbit is a baby as he tries in vain to run away from Black Rabbit. It can be likened to a coming of age story (or a bildungsroman, which is a nifty new term I just learned) as the Rabbit learns who he is and what he's capable of accomplishing. We can even see that in the endpapers, which both feature a map of Rabbit's crazy journey. The illustrations are watercolor and ink with some digital alterations, and they're presented in a soft, simple way so that the feelings of fear aren't totally overwhelming.

Finally for today, we have Michael Bartalos' Shadowville. Shadows come out during the day, but where do they go at night? In Bartalos' book, we learn that every night they retire to Shadowville to play shadow sports, shop, and sleep.

The shadows are mysteriously unbound to their original forms, allowing them to take all sorts of interesting new shapes. The story is simple--I think by now we all know I'm not the biggest fan of rhyming books--but the graphic illustrations are quirky and clean-cut enough to keep me intrigued. It's an interesting concept for a debut book, which also helps me forgive the few things that bothered me (like what about street lamps and overcast days?).

I think the book could have gone a little deeper and explored some of the darker side of humanity, but I understand that picturebooks can be limiting given their audience. The book itself is beautiful, with thick, speckled cream pages and a book cover that feels amazing, and the illustrations stick to basic, bold blocks of color to keep things simple. The font fits well with the shape of the shadows, often overlapping with the visual story to really heighten the looseness of the shadows at night. Not bad at all for a debut book!

That's all for this week. Comment below to share your favorite books with shadows, and I'll see y'all next week!

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