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 months.
Japanese-born Hiroe Nakata first made an appearance on the picture book scene in 2000 with her work on Shields' Lucky Pennies and Hot Chocolate, an affectionate tale of a boy's visit with his grandfather and their mutual exploration of the things they love. Right from this exuberant start she demonstrated a knack for warm, domestic details, highly expressive though stunningly simple faces, and a marked adeptness with cheerfully wet watercolors.
Two characteristics stand out as signature details of Nakata's work. The first is her watercolor faces, dot eyed and pink-cheeked, which are remarkably effective in their conveyance of emotion. The young girl's eager interest in hearing the story of her mother's pregnancy in Lund's Tell Me My Story, Mama is perfectly captured in the two intent specks that form her eyes; a single line serves Nakata well in Lucky Pennies to signify delighted grins or scratchy-clothes-wearing grimaces. The second is her use of linear white spaces in lieu of the more traditional black ink outline, employing negative space to signify borders between fields of colors. This technique works surprisingly well in defining peripheral spaces, throughout her work resulting in a happily haphazard feel where planes of pigment simultaneously bleed into each other and stand separate. This results in a feeling of spontaneity that often matches the text, such as the spread of legs strewn about under the bus seats in Helldorfer's Got to Dance or the intimate snuggle of a making-pancakes hug in Cohen's Everything Is Different at Nonna's House.
Additionally, Nakata has proven successful in the scattering of iconic objects, whether on the cover of Lucky Pennies (where a baseball, a toaster, a partially eaten sandwich, etc. are scattered around the central image) or in the endpapers of Tell Me My Story, Mama, where various representative objects of a newborn baby float against a field of pale green. These scatterings perfectly match the joyous and frenzied emotion her art often depicts while at the same time providing domestic elements that comfortably suit the often domestic stories she illustrates. Though Nakata has worked with a varied assortment of authors, she returns frequently to stories of the homespun kind, offering the opportunity for images that highlight relationships between family members and for eclectic neighborhood scenes. There is a familiar exuberance to this subject matter that matches the energy of her work.
Watercolor illustrations cover such a gamut of possibilities, from the tightly detailed work of Arthur Geisert to the seamless washes of Douglas Florian, and Nakata has captured a niche all her own, that of using watercolor to create images of warmth and familiarity with a generously wet hand and carefully expressive characters. Her work is appearing with increasing frequency (with more than a handful of 2004 titles and several upcoming in 2005), assuring that more and more children will have the opportunity to experience the cheerfully chaotic enthusiasm of her paintings.
--Hope Morrison, Reviewer
Cohen, Caron Lee. Everything is Different at Nonna's House. Clarion, 2003. (BCCB 7/03)
Helldorfer, M.C. Got to Dance. Doubleday, 2004. (BCCB 7/04)
Lund, Deb. Tell Me My Story, Mama. HarperCollins, 2004. (BCCB 4/04)
Shields, Carol Diggory. Lucky Pennies and Hot Chocolate. Dutton, 2000.
*Cover illustration by Hiroe Nakata from Got to Dance ©2004. Used by permission of Doubleday Books for Young Readers.