Tuesday, January 27, 2009

2009 Caldecott Award: The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson and Beth Krommes

Here is the key to the house.

In the house burns a light.

In that light rests a bed.

On that bed waits a book.

In an absolutely perfect melding of text and illustration, Susan Swanson's The House in the Night perfectly sets the scene for sleep. Beth Krommes' striking yet calming black scratchboard illustrations are lit with both a dark twilight glow and the brilliance of the golden moon, whose color seems to flow into objects inside the house. As the perspective focuses down from a bird's-eye view of the timeless cottage to a bed, then a book, and then a bird in the book, the golden color comes to rest on each page, tying the whole work together seamlessly.

Familiar objects fill the homey scene--a shaggy dog, his leash coiled carefully on a hall tree, a mother cat and two kittens, peeping from under the bed or chasing through the rooms, a violin and music stand--evoking the same cozy magic felt in that bedtime classic, Goodnight Moon. But these everyday things contrast with a fantasy flight which the little girl, whose bedroom we enter, takes on the back of the bird pictured in her open book. The artist's lens zooms out as girl and bird soar toward the moon and then the face of the sun, only to zoom in, back into the closeup of the book on the bed, where the dog and cats lie curled up, ready for the girl and her teddy bear to join them for the night.

On the moon's face shines the sun.

Sun in the moon, moon in the dark,

Dark in the song, song in the bird,

Bird in the book, book on the bed.

As the child sleeps in the moonlit room, her mother comes in to pick up her dropped clothing, close the book, and kiss the dreaming child, sleeping in the care of the moon's light:

Here is the key to the house,

The house in the night,

A home full of light.

All is well as the dark and light seem balanced together, leaving a feeling that all's right with the world as the child slips into sleep. This is one of those picture books which have receive universal praise: "spectacular," "lyrical," "artful simplicity," "a standout performance," and "homely simplicity," to mention a few reviewers' comments. Apparently, the Caldecott Award committee concurred.



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