Way back in the early summer, I found I had a number of picturebooks so extraordinary that I had to sing their praises. To my delight, these books all had a particular quality in common: they spoke to me of wonder, that powerful, almost overwhelming sense of awe and love. These books, I felt, were buoyed up by the wonder, the marvelling at nature or at people of the characters inside, a sense that must have been felt by the authors and illustrators or the unafraid curiosity and willingness to put oneself aside and observe with careful attention could not have been so evident on every page that the reader share the experience. In short, I found these books and loved them, and I hope you will too.
Therefore I have devoted this December (The Book Wars’s free-for-all month) to these books. I would love to hear which picturebooks fill you with wonder and excited you with a glimpse of a deep, contented, and wild beauty.
Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People, written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Julie Paschkis, is the story of the broad sweeps of the life of that poet, who began as
a little boy named Neftali, who loved wild things wildly and quiet things quietly.
From the moment he could talk, Neftali surrounded himself with words that whirled and swirled, just like the river than ran hear his home in Chile.
On every page, words in Spanish and in English whirl and swirl in fluid streams of colour. Words sprout on the green vine leaves, on the petals of red flowers, and on the brown folds of tree bark. Words fill the sun and the moon and the shelves of a store. They mark the waves of the sea and banners waved by protesters and the very ground walked upon.
The colours and fluid lines of the illustrations are reminiscent of folk art. I am strongly reminded of Tomie dePaola’s illustrations, many of which use a similar folk style. Sometimes Neftali appears more than once on a page; more often he is depicted with other people: his father; his teacher, Gabriela Mistral; his friends;
Because above all things and above all words, Pablo Neruda loved people.
Pablo loved mothers and fathers, poets and artists, children and neighbors, and his many friends around the world. He opened his arms to them all.
The words of the story are lovely, poetic. I have quoted enough that you can see for yourself; I will only add that the words and the pictures work harmoniously together. the pictures fill most of the page, with the bottom inches devoted to the words, printed as black letters on a coloured background with plenty of white (coloured) space. The line breaks are natural, allowing the quiet sufficiency of the words to speak for itself. The words support the pictures through their very unobtrusiveness; and the background – and the many shades of the illustrations – ensures that the pictures and the words belong together and complement each other.
Pablo wrote poems about the things he loved – things made by his artist friends, things found at the marketplace, and things he saw in nature.
He wrote about scissors and thimbles and chairs and rings.
He wrote about buttons and feathers and shoes and hats.
He wrote about velvet cloth the color of the sea.
(this image was evidently made for the book but was cut before printing; isn’t it lovely?)
Over the course of the story we see Pablo grow from a toddler to a boy, to an older boy to a young man in a great black cape, to an older man in love, to a middle aged host, protester, and fugitive. In the final illustration, the poet for the first time looks directly at the readers with a pen in his hand sprouting the green ink of the vines that have adorned many of the preceding pages.
The story concludes with an author’s note and a page of resources citing Pablo’s poetry and select biographies.