Saturday, July 2, 2011

Shadow (Picture Book 4/6)

Shadow (From the French of Blaise Cendrars)
Marcia Brown, author and illustrator
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 40 pages
Publisher: Aladdin (November 1, 1995) 
Winner: Randolph Caldecott Medal, 1983.
Category: Myth/poetry
Style: Folk art
Media: Woodblock/papercraft/collage
Grades: preschool- 2nd grade. (Ages 4-8)

4/5 stars

In Shadow, Brown translates Blaise Cendrars’ poem explaining various native African myths surrounding shadows.  She uses free verse, and it often has a flowing rhythm.  There is no plot, just a series of myths about “Shadow”, some contradictory, and all rather creepy.  She employs descriptive language to add to the eerie feeling.

The woodblock/paper collage illustrations are stunning in both their intricacy and their simplicity.  Simple, smooth lines belie the fact that they are meticulously crafted.  A use of bold colors for day time and rich dark tones for night invoke the time of day perfectly. Shadow itself is most often a faded, translucent gray, tissue paper in appearance, enhancing the mysteriousness of Shadow.  The texture of the paint in the background creates mountains and plains that one expects to be able to touch.  Brown uses the folk art style, imitating traditional African art in the illustrations.  The perspective is often stylized, as is often the case with folk art, and most all of the illustrations are two-page, unframed illustrations that cross the gutter.

Though visually stimulating, I can’t find that this is appropriate for the recommended age group.  It is, at times, a frightening book both in story and pictures.  The lack of plot and often contradictory nature of the myths could make it most confusing, even if it wasn’t scary.  It also depicts a stereotypical type of “noble savage” image for native Africans that is not considered appropriate now.   For older children (8-12, perhaps?), it could be used as a tool when discussing African history and myths, as long as it was balanced by other information.  It would make a good discussion tool for preteens when discussing how myths can have many explanations for one phenomenon.  I think it would be most enjoyed by (and appropriate for) adults, who can appreciate the free verse and the spectral nature of the topic.


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