Melissa Sweet, fellow Maine illustrator and amazing collage artist, recently received the Caldecott Honor for Jen Bryant’s,A River Of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams. The Caldecott Award "is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children." You might wonder then, why Hugo Cabret won last year. If you look deeper you find out that the award is about the perfect marriage of words and text. This marriage means that the illustrations are not redundant, they expand and grow the story making it full and satisfying. Melissa takes this marriage one step further and incorporates the text of WCW’s poetry in her images.
It is not easy to incorporate letters and images. Each letter has a swoop or line of its own as well as its own negative and positive space. Melissa’s illustrations allow the reader to step into William Carlos William’s shoes and experience the joy of creating poetry. Spending time with each collage, the viewer discovers the poems anew, finding words, like treasures, within the illustrations.
In her illustrator’s note, Melissa says that she had a lot of false starts before she stumbled on the idea of using old books as a centerpiece of the collages. The use of the book covers is genius. The viewer wonders was William Carlos Williams, a doctor by education and a poet at heart, trapped by his medical studies or released from his daily doctoring duties by the poetry the books contain?
The use of color in the images is stunning. In a reinvention of the The Figure Five in Gold by Charles Demuth, Melissa adds shocking pink and various other hues of red that take fans back to Carmine, A little more red. My favorite page illustrates the poem I posted yesterday, "This is just to say" Melissa uses the color chord that includes violet, its complement (yellow) and the two colors on either side of yellow, yellow-green and yellow orange. It is brilliant: the yellow-green and yellow-orange vibrating with the violet plums.
The final page of the book is most stunning. So instead of describe it I’ve scanned it here. (Click to see it bigger.)
Melissa describes this book as a gift to her career but it is the viewer who feels the outpouring of love on every page.