A Chair for My Mother

Julia Maisel

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Introduction

A Chair for My Mother is an extremely high-quality children's book and won the Caldecott Honor award. This book was published in 1982 and was written and illustrated by Vera B. Williams. It is told through the eyes of a sweet, young girl who lives with her mother and grandmother.

Literary Elements

The characters of the story were all meticulously chosen because they are realistic and relatable. All three of the generations of women are kind and resilient as they experience struggles that many readers can connect with. Their family does not have an excess of money and their previous home was burned down in a fire. The illustrations depict their simple kitchen and the dark scenes of the house fire. The book follows a progressive plot and concludes with a closed ending, leaving the reader without any questions. The last page of the story illustrates the girl sitting on her mother's lap in the velvet chair that they have worked so hard to acquire. The theme of the story is how the family overcomes their obstacles. This is represented through the family's determination to own the chair. The pictures reflect this theme because they are warm and use yellows, reds, pinks, and other colors that represent happiness. The last four pictures depict the family finally getting to purchase the piece of furniture.

Physical Features

A Chair for My Mother is a wide book that is about two inches longer than it is taller. This allows the images to be oriented as a landscape, rather than a portrait. It helps the illustrator to depict more details in the background of the scenes. For example, in the picture below, Williams is able to portray the houses in the neighborhood and details on them, instead of only illustrating the mother and daughter in the foreground. The cover of the book is decorated in a brilliant blue that immediately grabs the reader's eye. It depicts the narrator and her mother, which gives a slight insight into the characters of the story. The story's front matters consist of a title page and a dedication. Each of those two pages have a small image of an object that appears in the later pages of the story. This helps to create a connection between the front matters and the story itself.
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Visual Elements

As the mother and daughter run to their burning house, the image accurately depicts the emotions of the scene. The daughter and mother form a diagonal line with their bodies, representing the movement and how they rushed to the scene. The water spraying from the hoses also creates diagonal lines, showing the motion of the water. The bright red firetrucks stick out in this image as their color represents the danger of the situation. The roof of their house is blue, which represents that it was a restful place for the family. The color in this image really contributes to the reader's understanding of the situation. A viewer is given the point of view as if they are another individual on the street, watching the house burn. It helps the reader to connect with the characters and the scene.
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Visual Elements

On the next page, Williams depicted the aftermath of the fire. Majority of this illustration is consumed in dark gray and black. These colors contribute to the mood of the picture as they represent the heartbroken family and their fears of where they will live. Aside from the dark blue sky, the only color is in the faces of the three generations of women peering into the window of the burned house. This was a strategic tactic to demonstrate that despite their obstacle, the family remains united. They are the brightest thing in the room. The thick lines of the window frame and chair add an emphasis to the scene. Now, the reader has the point of view as someone on the opposite side of the glass from the family. This really helps the reader to feel the sorrow of the women as they are looking at the remnants of their home from the outside perspective.
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Visual Elements

On the next page, the illustration portrays the generous support from their family and friends as they donate items for their new home. The mood of the scene is depicted in the warmth of the yellow, representing happiness. The tall vertical lines of the houses represent stability. The people form a horizontal line, which helps to bring the elements of the image together. Stability is also represented through the shape of the houses and each lawn. They are all squares, which contribute to the idea that the family is getting back on their feet and will once again be stable.
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Artistic Style and Media

This picture book uses folk art to depict the illustrations in the story. It reflects elements of the Hispanic culture, including the warm colors. The pictures are very detailed and decorative. This helps the readers to completely submerge themselves into the life and culture of the family. It helps to authenticate the setting of the story, which takes place in the family's home and neighborhood. Williams uses watercolors to paint the images of the story. This helps the book to feel warm and childlike, rather than using harsh, defining lines to depict a story that is completely serious.

Elements of Illustration

The borders help to provide structure for the pages that incorporate a lot of chaos. They also unify the pages of illustrations with the pages of text beside one another, as they both possess the same border. Another element used is a flashback. A flashback is important because it helps the reader to understand the family's current situation, while explaining previous events. As the reader begins the story, they are unaware that a fire occurred and destroyed the family's home and furniture. This helps to hook the reader, as they must continue reading to discover why the armchair is so meaningful to the characters. The pages turn at a consistent pace and each page makes logical sense with the previous one. This helps to create a pleasant reading flow.

Interplay of Text and Illustrations

The text and illustrations partner together to tell the story. As the words describe the structure of the scene, the illustrations help to illuminate the mood and emotions of the plot. The overall meaning of the story is told through the expression on the characters' faces and the scene of each room. Every minor detail in the book was meticulously chosen to tell an aspect that the words could not. Williams did an exceptional job of ensuring that the words and illustrations make sense with one another and build off of each other.

Conclusion

A Chair for My Mother is well-deserving of the Caldecott Honor Medal. Through the vibrant illustrations and descriptive text, Vera B. Williams tells the heartwarming tale of a daughter, a mother, and a grandmother who overcome life's challenges. The pictures hold much of the story's meaning and help the reader to step into the world of the young girl.
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Citations

Giorgis, Cyndi et al.. “Children's Books: Visual Literacy”. The Reading Teacher 53.2 (1999): 146–153. Web.

Lukens, Rebecca J., Jacquelin J. Smith, and Cynthia Miller Coffel. A Critical Handbook of Children's Literature. Ninth ed. N.p.: Pearson Education, 2013. Print.