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.
Big dreams come true in Jerdine Nolen's picture books. Farmers grow balloons; children raise dragons and tame meat-eating plants. Characters take on epic challenges and emerge triumphant. Dreams are worth holding on to, Nolen seems to say in her warm storytelling drawl; where dreams are allowed to grow, wonders happen.
Nolen's skill in mingling the possible with the impossible makes her an especially talented creator of tall tales. In Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm, an ALA Notable Book, a young African-American girl in the South marvels at the strange crop grown by her close-mouthed neighbor. Through her own ingenuity, the narrator learns her neighbor's magical secret and opens up a lifetime of opportunities for herself. Another spunky girl turns farming into a fantastical career in Raising Dragons (BCCB 6/98); Plantzilla (BCCB 11/02) features letters that chronicle the against-all-odds friendship grown between a boy and his giant, carnivorous pet plant. Big Jabe (BCCB 9/00, Blue Ribbon winner) and the Coretta Scott King Honor book Thunder Rose (BCCB 1/04) add authentic, charismatic black heroes to the American tall-tale tradition. Big Jabe plants a pear tree that brings hope and healing to the plantation slaves whom he eventually frees, while Bunyan-like Thunder Rose finds her greatest strength comes from the lullaby sung to her by her parents, which she carries always “on the bull's-eye that was set at the center of her heart.” Nolen's latest picture book ( Hewitt Anderson's Great Big Life, BCCB 2/05) features a twist on the larger-than-life story: diminutive Hewitt Anderson, a tiny member of a (literally) giant family, endures many well-meant attempts to teach him size-inappropriate life skills as well as the scrutiny of the family doctor before his parents can understand that big is not always best—“there is power in small if you believe in yourself.”
Nolen's irresistibly optimistic texts are partnered with the work of talented illustrators such as Mark Buehner, Elise Primavera, David Catrow, and Kadir Nelson. Aided by the illustrators' compelling images, Nolen's texts reveal in their author an energetic idealism and a considerable gift for telling stories wherein the surprising meets up with downhome reality--to the picture-book audience's great benefit.
--Timnah Card, Reviewer
Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm; illus. by Mark Buehner. HarperCollins, 1994.
Raising Dragons; illus. by Elise Primavera. Silver Whistle/Harcourt, 1998. (BCCB 6/98)
Big Jabe; illus. by Kadir Nelson. Lothrop, 2000. (BCCB 9/00)
Plantzilla; illus. by David Catrow. Silver Whistle/Harcourt, 2002. (BCCB 11/02)
Thunder Rose; illus. by Kadir Nelson. Silver Whistle/Harcourt, 2003. (BCCB 1/04)
Hewitt Anderson's Great Big Life; illus. by Kadir Nelson. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2005. (BCCB 2/05)