Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book Review - Illustrator Kadir Nelson

Hewitt Anderson's Great Big Life written by Jerdine Nolen and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Bibliographic Data: Nolen, Jerdine. 2005. HEWITT ANDERSON’S GREAT BIG LIFE. Ill. By Kadir Nelson. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0689868669

Plot: Even though Hewitt Anderson’s parents are giants, Hewitt can fit into the palm of his father’s hand. His parents decide to give him lessons on how to survive in their giant world. But the lessons invariably go haywire until finally one day, Hewitt rescues his parents and a visiting doctor from a locked room by climbing through the keyhole. In doing so, Hewitt finally convinces his parents that even if he’s small, he’s just the right size for him.

Critical Analysis: Hewitt has a difficult time persuading his loving parents that his size is not a deterrent to him being able to survive in their world. This story of a boy proving himself to a world where he seems too small to be safe will appeal to small children whose world must sometimes appear almost as giant as Hewitt’s world.

The Anderson family lives a simple lifestyle. Mrs. Anderson does her own cooking and cleaning, and their family outings consist of singing sessions, morning, or afternoon walks. In keeping with their simple lifestyle, their clothing is simple, even when company comes for dinner. Ironically, we learn when their company comes over that the Anderson family has a collection of golden eggs of all sizes. It’s not that they can’t afford to live an expensive lifestyle, they just choose to live simply instead.

This story about a family of (almost all) giants has many indirect reference in it to “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Nolen mentions golden eggs and climbing up and down beanstalks but never anybody named Jack. Nolen does mention Mr. Anderson’s great-great-great grandmother Ida, who came to the valley “after that business with the beanstalk.” All of these references serve to give the story a hidden depth.

Nolen frequently uses words such as enormous, impressive, vast, and gargantuan and then contrasts them with words such as teeny-weeny, pint-size, and miniature to contrast Hewitt’s size with his parents’ sizes.

Nolen also mentions repeatedly how much the Andersons love Hewitt. Not only is this shown by Nolen’s words, but Nelson’s depictions of Hewitt’s mother constantly smiling at him (well, except for the day Hewitt fell into the flour vat).

While Nolen’s storyline has scattered mentions of the Jack in the Beanstalk story, Nelson’s illustrations reinforce these elements by having a giant beanstalk growing in the middle of a field on the dedication page. The first page shows that beanstalk again, but now we’re at the top of the beanstalk which is growing right next to a cottage on top of a hill. The cottage appears fairly normal, with a town far off in the distance. But as we look closer at Nelson’s illustrations, the trees lining the front walk are smaller than the front door. And there’s a gargoyle on the top of the house.
In another illustration, we see a room filled with golden eggs and a harp at the back of the room. Nolen never mentions a harp, but there it is in Nelson's illustrations, connecting this tory even mor ewith Jack and the Beanstalk.

When we first meet Hewitt and his parents, Hewitt is standing in his father’s palm, right under an anchor that is serving as Mr. Anderson’s suspenders button. Nelson uses perspective here to show us Mr. Anderson’s size – he is so big that his head appears very small in proportion to his hands, giving the illusion that his head is a very long way off indeed.
My favorite illustration is the one of Hewitt taking a nap. He’s sitting, apparently stark-naked, in the middle of a pillow that, in relation to Hewitt, is the approximate size of a small bedroom. Hewitt is grinning from ear to ear. According to Nolen’s text, “To Hewitt the world was big and wonderful and wide.” The text combines perfectly with the illustration on this page to show that Hewitt is a boy in love with life.

There are many themes in this book. Some of them include the love of family and the unimportance of having money to be happy. The strongest theme though, and the one that will appeal most to younger readers, is that no matter how big or little you are, no matter what you look like, you’re just right.

Awards and review excerpts:
Best Children's Books of the yEAR, 2005: Bank Street College of Education; United States
Capitol Choices, 2006: The Capitol Choices Committee; United States
Children's Catalog. Nineteenth Edition, 2006: H.W. Wilson; United States
Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 2006: National Council for the Social Studies NCSS; United States

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2004 (Vol. 72, No. 24))Low on suspense but high on sheer feel-goodness…. Nelson's burly, monumental, brown-skinned giants positively glow with beneficence, and Nolen writes, as always, with a distinctive mix of humor and formality… Here's proof that, when it comes to heart, physical size isn't the whole story.

Timnah Card (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February 2005 (Vol. 58, No. 6))This tall tale is told in warm, intimate tones sure to make listeners feel a part of the family. Recurring images in the text and the illustrations of little Hewitt being lovingly cared for by his oversized parents build an impression of security, while the sheer size of Hewitt’s surroundings creates an intoxicating feeling of freedom.

Read this story along with Jack and the Beanstalk by Paul Galdone.

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