Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thursday, February 22, 2018: Kids' Maximum Shelf: I Got It!


Clarion Books: I Got It! by David Wiesner

Clarion Books: I Got It! by David Wiesner

Clarion Books: Flotsam by David Wiesner

Clarion Books: Tuesday by David Wiesner

I Got It!

by David Wiesner

Three-time Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner once again brings young audiences a hint of the extraordinary in his new almost-wordless picture book, I Got It!

A child, already wearing his baseball glove, peers nervously through the backstop at a group of kids organizing a pickup game. Hands behind his back, one foot self-consciously placed over the other, he clearly wants to play. He slowly approaches the small group organizing itself on the title page and asks to be included. In a series of three, graphic novel-like panels, an older boy gives our hopeful player a contemplative stare and sends him to the outfield where, against a backdrop of green trees and suburban homes, the boy gets ready to play.

The next thing the reader knows, the opposing team has hit a fly ball in the boy's direction. The page turn shows a close up of him against a blue sky with puffy, white clouds reaching... reaching... "I got it!"

Only he doesn't. The white-bordered illustration on the left-hand page flows seamlessly into the right, on which the boy is shown in a sea of white space, tripping over a large root. A small group of birds stands by as his hat flies off and he goes down, the ball soaring right over his glove. The next full-page spread depicts the boy on the ground, still reaching for the ball, his hat and one shoe lying next to him, his six teammates face-palming at his failure.

The next page turn again shows the boy, nervous face extremely focused as he reaches into the blue sky. Half of the ball is now in view, looking as if it is aiming directly for the center of his glove. Again, there is a seamless transition from the bordered, puffy-clouded real world into the boy's imagination: on the right-hand page, he is shown tripping over a root that looks like something from a Grimm fairytale. The knee-high root is gnarled and accompanied by other sinister-looking roots that are exploding out of the ground. The birds, which had seemed so innocent surrounding the first tripped-over root, now fly menacingly in the white space surrounding the boy. Another page turn to a full-page spread, and the boy has fallen directly into a tree, arms wrapped around it à la Wile E. Coyote.

Back and forth the reader goes, from the boy's real-time reach for the ball to his split-second imagination of the very worst scenario. As the others on his team also reach for the ball, he envisions it suddenly growing to the size of a blimp, looking as if it may crush him as it plunges to the ground. Next, he is shrinking--or his teammates are growing--until he is mouse-sized in relation to the other children. Clinging to the shorts of a teammate, he is propelled through the air as the kids run to catch the ball. He leaps from legs to heads, bounding from hat to hat as he tries desperately to catch it. He and the birds fly between hands and baseball gloves the size of cars as he reaches... reaches....

"I GOT IT!"

Back in the real world, the boy and his team celebrate while the opposing team's hitter laments the catch. Our protagonist has saved the day, and the final page shows him seated on the ground waiting for his turn at bat, smiling as he chats with his new friends.

I Got It! is a depiction of Wiesner's almost lifelong interest in "the idea of a lengthy mental fantasy happening in a very short time." Here, the boy runs through several upsetting fantasies in the few seconds it takes for him to catch the ball heading his way. "The most challenging part of this book," Wiesner said, "was [visually] differentiating the two worlds.... The real-world paintings are framed on three sides by a white border. When the boy reaches for the ball on a left-hand page, the white border and the white clouds in the sky on that page flow into the facing page, where his thoughts exist as isolated forms. It is the border/no border design that carries the reader between the two worlds."

Beyond the border/no border design, Wiesner wanted to heighten the difference between the realistic and imaginary worlds. He painted "the art in two different ways. The real world is done in opaque paints, with acrylic, gouache and watercolor.... The mental scenarios are done with watercolor." This gives the imagined scenes an almost ethereal effect--everything is a little bit softer, a little bit less defined. "When [the boy] ultimately takes control of his thoughts," Wiesner said, "the final mental image has all the other figures fading away."

As can be expected of any David Wiesner work, I Got It! is extremely creative and features bewitching art. Like Tuesday or Mr. Wuffles, the wordless nature of this book allows children (and adults) to experience and interpret the story in any number of ways, giving the gift of countless new rereads. I Got It! is an experience, and readers will surely love the ride. --Siân Gaetano

Clarion Books, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9780544309029

Clarion Books: I Got It! by David Wiesner


David Wiesner: Many Stories to Be Explored

David Wiesner is internationally renowned for his visual storytelling and has won the Caldecott Medal three times--for Tuesday, The Three Pigs and Flotsam--the second person in history to do so. He is also the recipient of three Caldecott Honors, for Free Fall, Sector 7 and Mr. Wuffles. I Got It! comes out April 3 from Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Wiesner lives near Philadelphia with his family.

Where did you get the idea for I Got It! and what compelled you to pursue it?

The idea for I Got It! actually began in my childhood. In the fourth or fifth grade, my class was shown the 1962 French film based on the Ambrose Bierce short story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

The story, told without dialogue, is about a southern Civil War prisoner who is to be hanged by Union soldiers. As the plank holding him over the creek is removed and he falls, the rope breaks. He goes into the water, frees himself and escapes. 

The man journeys through the forest until he finally reaches his home. As his wife reaches out to him, touching his neck, the man stiffens and his head snaps back. The scene then cuts to his body hanging from the bridge.

Yes, this was shown to my elementary class. Different times!

I was taken with the idea of a lengthy mental fantasy happening in a very short time--seconds, in fact. This is where I Got It! comes in. For a long time, I had wanted to see if I could use the idea of a kid's mind playing out a series of ever-expanding scenarios relating to the action in which his physical self is involved. It was key that whatever the kid was doing would take only a couple of seconds but would feel like an eternity.

My first thought for the action of the story was the catching of a ball--specifically, a baseball. I remembered baseball games I played in as a kid. I was generally in the outfield because I was younger than most of the other kids and the outfield is where you put the... um... less seasoned players. I had a definite sense of dread that the ball would actually be hit to me. And when a high fly ball finally came toward me, it seemed to take forever to come down. Of course, it was mere seconds, but that was enough time for my brain to conjure up any number of doomsday scenarios. At the end of those few seconds I would either catch the ball--or not.

Are there themes that you thread through all of your work? Or any that you've been thinking about and want to further investigate in book form?

There is a whole set of thematic ideas and images that I return to all the time. I first encountered many of these as a child--An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and surrealism being two examples. Other things I was fascinated by were alternate realities, changes in scale, worlds-within-worlds, and fish. As I grew up, each time I encountered these ideas in books, film, TV, or art, I would connect them to my childhood first impressions. Those connections strengthened with every new exposure.

When I began writing, it was these ideas I turned to. I had first discovered wordless storytelling in comic books as a kid. That concept became a lens I saw my stories through.

There are a lot of possibilities left for me to explore!

What do surreal elements allow you to do as a storyteller that you can't do with strictly realistic elements?

I was profoundly affected by encountering surrealist art as a kid. I would ride my bike to my local library--Bound Brook [N.J.] Memorial Library--and look at the Time-Life books on the history of art. When I saw work by Dalí, Magritte, Ernst, de Chirico, I was amazed. My own art took a radical turn toward the surreal.

A number of the surrealists painted their dream-like visions in an academically representational way, often set within the ordinary world. Seeing that strangeness rendered in such precise clarity, existing in a world I recognized, was what really captivated me.

My own stories mostly take place in everyday, ordinary settings. It's exciting to think that maybe right around the corner or just out of sight, something strange and amazing is happening

Do you feel as if you have deliberately shaped your career path? How have the awards impacted your life and your work?

I have, in that I focus on ideas that are personal and fascinating to me.

I have been able to keep that focus because of a group of people who are proud to publish my books and who do all they can to help me make them the best they can be. All the books I have written have been made with the same people--the late Dorothy Briley and then Dinah Stevenson as my editors; Carol Goldenberg as my art director; and, until her recent retirement, Donna McCarthy overseeing production. Finding people who want to publish what you create is an author's dream. I feel fortunate to have met my dream team very early in my career.

I always assumed that my sometimes strange, mainly wordless books would have a limited audience. The Caldecott Medals changed my visibility in a dramatic way, and for that I'm thankful.

Where are you looking to take your work? Do you have ideas for your next book?

I am always looking for the best way to tell my story. The format depends on the needs of the story. Mostly that means a picture book, but if the story wants to go somewhere else, I'll follow it.

Fish Girl was too big for a picture book, so I was delighted to work in the graphic novel format. Spot was an idea I had been trying to do as a picture book, but couldn't get quite right. The digital format allowed me to explore the idea in an exciting new way.

Currently, I am working on a book with characters from one of the worlds in my app, Spot. Six worlds of different settings and different characters lead to many stories waiting to be explored. --Siân Gaetano


Powered by: Xtenit