Friday, October 11, 2013

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner ; with art by Christopher Silas Neal (2011)

I love owls
 Another picture book that Goodreads recommended, and once again, at least for picture books, they were spot on. Instead of saying the book was "illustrated by" or "pictures by", the title page comes right out and says "art by Christopher Silas Neal."  I am in 100% agreement - these aren't mere illustrations.  Neal has created art.     New York Times called them "retro-style." Which is true - they could be from a Little Golden Book from 1947 (one of my favorite years stylistic, I think). I loved the color palette, and the "matte" of the book.  

I wasn't as big a fan of the text as I was of the pictures; I think for this kind of book, I was expecting something bit more poetic and not so prosy.  There were some beautiful turns of phrases though:  "strong, silent pines" ; "Under the snow, deer mice doze.  They huddle up, cuddle up against the cold" ; "Shadows dance in the flames."  I liked when the dad said "Look... Tracks.  Tracks always tell a story."  Which would make a great discussion starter if one were walking in the snow with a child.  

The end is full of information, which I also liked.  I had never heard of the word "subnivean" before; there was a list of animals found in the book and explanations of their winter behavior. There was also a list of books where you could read more about animals and winter, which I thought was great.  

Living in Southern California, you can go visit the snow - which is what is happening in this book as well.  I still miss snow though, and this gave me a good taste of winter.  

From an interview between the author and the illustrator about the creative process, which I thought was interesting: 
This balance wasn't achieved easily and It took a few rounds and some coaxing from Art Director Amelia Mack and Editor Melissa Manlove at Chronicle Books before we found the right mix. We started with a test piece which feels quite different from the art in the final book. The animals are blue and red- very cute and characters all to themselves. The problem with this approach is that they lack mystery and intrigue. They feel more like friends than they do an elusive ecosystem of creatures darting in and out of trees and freshly packed snow. With big eyes, and friendly smiles, we might expect the beaver, chipmunk or bear to strike up a conversation. 

 Neal's mixed media, which I had been curious about:
This would probably be a good time to talk about how I made the final images for the book. My process is a mix of drawing, painting, printing making and digital art. I always start with an under drawing. From there I imagine how I might break up the image and how each part of an image will be created. The body of a chipmunk might be created by using acrylic paint, a brayer and a stencil. His eyes, nose and stripes created with pencil. I create each part separately, scan them, and put the parts back together again on the computer while also adding color. This allows to me use various different media for one image and the flexibility to move things around until I get it just right.


Over and Under the SnowOver and Under the Snow by Kate Messner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The title page doesn't say "illustrated by" or "pictures by," it says "art by Christopher Silas Neal - and that's an apt description. These (like many of the pictures in children's literature) aren't merely illustrations, each page is really a moving and mysterious work of art.  Using a style and color palette reminiscent of a 1940s Little Golden Book, Neal's art brings to life the cold, "subnivean" (I learned a new word!) world of winter both above and below the snow.  The prose isn't quite as beautiful as the artwork, but it's still quite lovely and has some beautiful turns of phrase.  

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