"Nana In The City"

by Lauren Castillo, Caldecott Silver Medal (A Review :) )

Introduction...

For this assignment I chose to review this particular early reader by Lauren Castillo. It follows the journey of a young boy and his nana as they go through the city. As the story begins the boy appears fearful of everything that is going on around him, as well as the people and places they encounter. However, as things go on his nana makes him a red cape to be brave and shows him that their is nothing to be afraid of. She demonstrates small acts of kindness and all the beauty that surrounds him in such a 'scary' city. I really enjoyed this and plan on reading this to my future preschool class.

Illustrations!

In terms of illustrations, the drawings entail some pretty articulate scenery. Although none of it is realistic (rather it is very much cartoon style) it includes lots of small details in the drawings despite the normally white background surrounding these scenes. The artistic style is truly enjoyable and appears to be very simple. There also appears to be a lot of diagonal lines indicating lots of motion as well as indicating the height of the buildings of the city and how monumental they may be in the perspective of such a young child. I noticed as well in parts of the book, where the boy is scared that the colors are much more dull and dark, such as when he is approached by strangers in the street. However in others, like when they visit the park, bright colors like green and blue and yellow are employed.
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continued....

I also noticed that Nana's coat itself is yellow indicating some happiness when around her. This doesn't have to be symbolic, but it's just an observation after all. I chose to analyze this image in particular as it really stood out to me how the chaos surrounds the two (as indicated by the diagonal lines and heavy background) but the colors remain ecstatic and generally happy. The framing of the pages is interesting. In almost every page the picture takes up the entire page, leaving no room for a border tor white space. It is neatly arranged and the color changes are never too drastic. In the spread below you can see the page turn, as well as an example of one of the few pages where there is a white space left as a border. As you can also see, the text is on the actual picture, but still remains where the illustration is not busy as to remain visible.

I didn't take much notice to the size of the book, but even in my adult hands it seemed fairly large. I don't really understand what this could indicate but it's fair to say that the large size of the book really allowed to see the small details of the pictures. You can even see the pattern in the small details of the red cape his nana made him. This is all very visually entertaining and provides entertainment value, as well as creating further meaning.
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Literary Elements:

In regards to the elements of this early reader, I noticed that the plot and setting are very well reflected in the illustrations described above. The "busy and scary" is really reflected in the pictures. Plot wise, it is also reflected, as the story progresses the city remains busy and always appears chaotic, but is reflected in a more positive light, and using backgrounds with happier colors such as bright yellow or calming blue and mauve tones in the image above.

I feel that these elements truly made this early reader much more meaningful and provided further context to the theme and plot.
Thematically, I believe this book is mainly just intending to reach early readers, and send them the message that new places don't always have to be scary. This is very important and this theme is well reflected by the acts of kindness demonstrated within the story line.The almost casual and very 'rough around the edges' style used in illustrating this book reflects the nature of the message. It is very heart touching and really allows the reader to warm up to the theme as opposed to another style such as abstract.
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Artistic media:

Upon further research I actually discovered that the original illustrations (that were obviously reprinted) were actually done in watercolor! This is what allows for the seamless transitions, as well as the wonderful style of the book.This particular use of media, I think reflects some nostalgia and watercolor is also excellent for depicting more natural looking scenery as opposed to digital media as in other children's books.

This particular use of media I think also makes for a more impressionistic style or almost surreal style. Rather than coming off as blatantly cartoony or almost comical, it's very nostalgic and pleasant.The employment of different perspectives and even some aerial shots really gives a great outlook on the book and on the grand scheme of it all.

Interplay of all Elements.

All of the elements visually and literary really come together in this book. With the nostalgic style of the illustrations (that I feel can be directly attributed to the watercolor) to the theme of comfort, and the interesting play of details and plot, it really did deserve it's award. The text and the pictures seemed immaculately put together, and really coincided. It is clear that the author and illustrator put a lot of work into this book to deliver their best product.The succinct text in succession with the water color illustrations capture the vitality and beauty of the setting and the theme itself. I also found plenty of entertainment value as it really engages the reader with a warm tone to it, as well as the beautiful art style.
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As the book almost finishes off, the elements (visually) grow more chaotic but the text indicates a calmer state of the child. It's an interesting and almost conflicting interplay of elements, but it makes sense. It displays his growth and his renewed level of comfort in new places and with new people. After all, character development is key in any literary piece.

Conclusion!!

I am truly impressed with this early reader. It really exemplifies the true quality of a Caldecott book. Providing a significant meaning to the reader, delivering quality illustration/style, and providing great entertainment value all in one is not an easy task. The characters exemplify compassion and development and this is incredibly important when writing books for children. If I had to rate this book I would honestly say it's a 5 star book. I love that all the elements come together, and as the book closes off, on the final page nana sends the boy back with his father with a new sense of self and bravery after having to encounter a scary city and finding the beauty and vitality of it all.