of the Center for Children's Books:
|Each month we offer a
focus on a particular author or artist, sometimes we use this space
to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like
to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books.
See the archive for focus pieces from previous
We first really noticed Dan Yaccarino's work in his art for Eve Merriam's Bam Bam Bam; the text was a reprint so the Bulletin didn't review the book, but the rugged rotundity of Yaccarino's glossy geometric characters certainly caught ou r attention.
Since then the illustrator has demonstrated a consistent and welcome gift for stylish and individual visions. If I Had a Robot starred a rebellious round-headed narrator (vaguely reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes' Calvin), who contemplates the manly art of evasion via robot ("I bet if I had a robot he would eat those vegetables at my command!"). Good Night, Mr. Night offers a personified nighttime, a chunky, softly contoured figure who gently brings the close of day. In Little W hite Dog, he took a text that could have merely suggested a predictable peekaboo routine and turned it into a clever perceptual game aimed just right for preschoolers.
Much children's illustration today emphasizes delicacy, subtlety, and intricacy, relies on cheerful informality, or evinces a deliberately childish draftsmanship. Yaccarino takes quite a different tack: though there's a retro air to some of his work, there's no glamorized, adult-appealing nostalgia here. Rather there's a robustness reminscent of the energetic illustrative work of the colorful 1950s and even at times (especially in Bam Bam Bam) of Diego Rivera's glistening and monumental fig ures-though in Yaccarino they've turned peach, streamlined, and smiling. The spreads have a refreshing unfussiness and sturdiness: kids could romp through these scenes without fear of breaking anything fragile or tipping stuff over, and if you spilled g rape juice or ketchup on the scenery it looks like a good hosing would take care of the problem; it could all be some big alluring playground set. His colors (which tend to emphasize the period flavor with their glowing oranges--he's one of the few illus trators who's earned the right to use that difficult color--dusty greens, and powdery blues) are similarly bold and vigorous, emphasizing contrast and, even in Good Night, Mr. Night, light.
This is not to say, however, that all Yaccarino books look alike. He produces vast differences of texture and dimensionality within his identifiable style: the tough three-dimensionality of the folks mechanical and human in If I Had a Robot is different from the velvet curves of Good Night, Mr. Night, and the figures in Little White Dog evince a stylized simplicity and (of necessity, for the part of the game that involves them blending into their backgrounds) as flat as the paper they're on. Then there's the fact that he himself has produced his own tasty texts, which range from the plainspoken and determined If I Had a Robot to the unobtrusive lyricism of Good Night, Mr. Night.
Know a youngster who yawns at lacy borders, gentle pastels, and pretty picturebook people? Give that kid some Yaccarino, and let him or her bounce through those pages.
--Deborah Stevenson, Assistant Editor
This page was last updated on September 1, 1998.