7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #242: Featuring Leo & Diane Dillon

h1 October 23rd, 2011 by jules

“The years passed in a march of seasons. / The boy grew tall and strong / Under the loving eyes of his father. / And the protective forces of the Mother Elements, /
Who were his teachers, / His counselors, / His friends.”

How do you introduce illustrators like Leo and Diane Dillon? Well, they’re not here visiting today (I wish), but how, I wonder, do I introduce their art without sounding like a blithering starstruck halfwit? Their work is simply stunning and quite often breathtaking and always beautiful. They are living legends, who have illustrated more than sixty books for children and are two-time Caldecott Medal winners.

If you’re a fan, as I clearly am, you’ll want to see a copy of their latest illustrated title, written by the great Patricia C. McKissack, who herself has also acquired a slew of impressive awards in her career, including a Newbery Honor and a Coretta Scott King Award. It’s called Never Forgotten, was released by Schwartz & Wade this month, and has been met with starred reviews all-around.

Written in verse (“a searing cycle of poems” Kirkus calls it), it’s the chilling story of a young African boy taken by slave traders to America.

Dinga, a great blacksmith living in West Africa in 1725, is honored for his skill, yet also for his powerful magicianship. He can “speak the old names / Of the Mother Elements, / Earth, / Fire, / Water, / Wind, / And they would do his bidding…” After his wife dies during childbirth, Dinga calls upon these elements of the earth to help raise his son. Musafa grows as a happy child with his loving father and the Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind to raise him.

But, after becoming an apprentice to his father, he is taken by slave traders. There is a great search, each element wreaking as much havoc as possible in order to separate Musafa from the men and free him (earthquake, a blazing fire that engulfs the grasslands).

It’s Water who returns to say that the boy was sold to the Charlack Plantation in Carolina. (This is, arguably, the book’s most touching moment, pictured below: “So saddened by what she had to report, / Water melted into the river, / Where her tears flooded the shore.”) Dinga is heartbroken, but it’s Wind who ultimately brings good news about his son. Yes, good news, because Musafa has a will of steel, bravery in spades, and compassion — not to mention he carries the memory of his family with him.

But I don’t want to give it all away, so I shall stop there. It’s powerful stuff, a story of family ties, courage, and survival: “What father can hide his pain / When his child is stolen?” McKissack writes. “What mother does not lament / The loss of a son or daughter? / Remember the wisdom of Mother Dongi: / ‘Kings may come and go, / But the family endures forever.’ / Think on that when the silence comes.”

The Kirkus review adds that this is a “totally absorbing poetic celebration of loss and redemption.” Indeed. “The pictures,” wrote School Library Journal, “demonstrate the miracle of superb book illustration: how something that lies flat on the page can convey such depth, texture, and feeling.” The Dillons’ artwork, rendered in acrylics and watercolors, is haunting — boldly-outlined on a primarily Earth-toned palette and sometimes, as you can see in one of the illustrations below, depicting the slave traders as skeletons, faces of death.

Since the art speaks way more than I ever can, here is a bit more…

“THIEVES! / Chase, / Run, / I scorch their path. / Anger! / I hurl long spears of fire at their heels. / Rage! / They escape to the sandy beach. /
Blocked, / I can go no farther. / Fury!”

“Musafa, / Sold. / See him no more. / Hear him no more. /
Shum Da Da We Da Shum Da Da We Da.”

“The last part of a story is the silence / That comes at the end. / A time to think, to reflect. / The drums are still now. / They no longer warn us /
To beware / Of the men who steal upriver. . . .”

NEVER FORGOTTEN. Copyright © 2011 by Patricia C. McKissack. Illustration © 2011 by Leo & Diane Dillon. Published by Schwartz & Wade Books, New York. Images reproduced with permission of the publisher.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) “The last part of a story is the silence / That comes at the end.” I love that.

2) Speaking of great picture books, I already wrote about it at Kirkus on Friday, but I mention it again, since I’m crazy in love with it and it’s a kick: Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Naamah and the Ark at Night, illustrated by Holly Meade. I’ll have some spreads from it here at 7-Imp on Friday.

3) And speaking of picture books in general, did you see the bold Picture Book Manifesto from a whole slew of talented authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators? Let the discussion begin! (Seriously, there’s a Facebook page for discussion, if you’re so inclined.)

(The image here comes from the proclamation and was created by Carson Ellis.)

4) Last weekend’s Southern Festival of Books was a delight. Here’s a picture (courtesy of my friend and fellow librarian Angela Frederick) from Matt Phelan’s and Bob Shea’s session. (That’s Matt on the left and Bob, right, both saying erudite things, I’m sure, about the art of illustration.)

5) This wonderful exhibit yesterday with good friends at a small gallery in East Nashville. That annual exhibit is devoted to children’s books by local artists. Cool, huh?

I just don't think things can possibly end well for 'ol Walt.6) I’m seriously addicted to Breaking Bad, as in marathon-watching from Season One till now — late at night, that is, when everything else is done and the small people of the house are sleeping. It’s CHAIR-GRIPPINGLY intense, but the fine, fine acting in that show is what makes it like crack. Er, meth.

7) When Sam Phillips sings, “my heart, a little bird / keeps me in this world…”

NOTE: Holy wow, wouldn’t you like to go to this, the 22nd Annual Children’s Book Illustration Exhibition, at Rich Michelson’s gallery? Sometimes, everything great related to children’s book illustration seems so far away. (Note that I said “sometimes,” because of kick #5, for which I am grateful.)

Anyway, if you live in the Northeast and are near enough to his gallery, consider yourself informed.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

19 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #242: Featuring Leo & Diane Dillon”

  1. Really love these illustrations. Hope I can get a copy over here. My kicks this week? Well, a week long school holiday has just started for us so we’re in PJs till early afternoon. So lovely not to have to be anywhere at a set time!

  2. Wow, thanks for sharing those beautiful spreads. Yes, the Dillons are such legends, you kind of feel like you should speak about them in hushed tones . . . (or maybe shouts of glee)!

    Great pic of Matt and Bob. I once saw Bob at Books of Wonder in NYC. He seemed a little shy (that’s wrong, right)? 🙂

    My kicks:

    1. Got a couple copies of Sophie Blackall’s Missed Connections after seeing it mentioned here. LOVE ♥

    2. Ordered a giant cupcake pillow for my niece.

    3. Connected with another long lost friend via FB. This one was lost for over 40 years.

    4. Mochi ice cream.

    5. The PB Manifesto.

    6. Barbara Crooker’s poetry.

    Unkick: Someone’s eating the pumpkin on our front porch.

    Have a great week, everyone.

  3. Wow! McKissack and Dillon, what a great combo. Those illustrations are something.
    Jules, the Southern Festival of Books sounds so wonderful. How lucky you were to hang out with those two guys.
    Zoe, I like the PJ’s ’til early afternoon.
    Jama, thanks for hosting Poetry Friday. The Crooker poem on Friday was fab.
    My kicks:
    1. Attending to the neglected side yard yesterday morning.
    2.Then spent the day reading and napping.
    3. Finished Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand for book club.
    4. Bookclub tonight.
    5. Finished Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.
    6. Attended Laini’s book reading on Tuesday, So great to see her.
    7. Won an audio copy of the book. Yay.
    Have a great week.

  4. Zoe, enjoy the PJ time. Woot!

    Jama, how about that book of Sophie’s? Good stuff. …. I don’t know that Matt seemed shy to me — just more quiet. Who’s attacking your pumpkin? I love how you called it an unkick. We could have a collection of unkicks one Sunday, but I suppose that would be a downer. In high school, my friends and I circulated “Hate Lists,” the kind of thing that would immediately get a kid suspended today. But it didn’t have other students on it. It was things like “Tiffany’s music” or “Debbie Gibson,” ’cause we were misfits and weirdos.

    Jone, I attended to neglected stuff in our house yesterday, and it feels good, doesn’t it? Have fun at the book club tonight. Congrats on the CDs.

  5. Good morning to the Imps and the Dillons, to the poetry and the pictures.

    On Thursday evening, I discovered the music (and lyrics) of Andrew Belle. Here’s his video for The Ladder. It’s animated, so it should fit right in here.

    How cute is that little fox, I ask you?

    Here’s the video for Static Waves by Andrew Belle, featuring Katie Herzig:

    My kicks for the past week:

    1) Cat-sitting! As I type this post, I am petting a beautiful feline.
    2) The aforementioned music & lyrics of Andrew Belle. I count the steps / From where I end / To where I started
    3) Audition
    4) Callback
    5) Happiness in spite of badness
    6) Being remembered
    7) Optimism

    Jules: Glad that you had fun at the Festival, at the gallery, and in front of the TV and radio. 🙂

    Zoe: Enjoy your holiday!

    Jama: Yay for reconnecting with an old friend. Tell Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater to stop that.

    Jone: Go Laini!

  6. The embedded videos didn’t appear, so here are links.


    The Ladder video

    Static Waves video

  7. Little Willow, I added the videos for you. WordPress can be weird about adding them.

    I have to go run a small errand, but I’m going to come back and turn it up, man, and listen. Thanks for sharing! (Though I know you shared one with me this week, and that may be up here again.) … CAT-SITTING! My six-year-old was just pretending to be a cat, purring in my lap. Break a leg at the audition and with the callback! I thought it said “baldness” first, instead of “badness.” I know you would rock baldness, too.

  8. LW, love the new music! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Zoe: Enjoy your PJ days :).

    Jone: How nice to experience all that Laini goodness!

    LW: LOVE Andrew’s music and lyrics. Thanks for sharing!! *purr*

    Jules: I hope to photograph Peter Pumpkin Eater sometime. I have my suspicions . . .

  10. The Dillons have illustrated the cover of my imaginary book.

    1. I’m collaborating with some artisans on nativity sets this year. I look forward to being able to share the photos soon. I’m smitten with the camel.

    2. The Friendship Wish, by Elisa Kleven. I am inspired to sew a guitar-playing angel like the one in Kleven’s book.

    3. It’s one week to my first 5k! I plan to check in next Sunday and tell you how it went. I need to make sure that the charley horses stay away from my calves this week. They tend to gallop All Over my left calf. It’s brutal.

    4. I’ve finally started reading Octavia Butler. It’s about time. I’m reading The Wild Seed.

    5. Scott Westerfeld’s Goliath finally arrived on my holds shelf. I would have bought it in hardback, but I have signed paperbacks, and I don’t want to wreck the set by getting a hardback… you know the story. When it comes to books, I can get a little matchy-matchy.

    6. After the 5k, my mom is going to babysit the girl while my husband and I double-date with some friends.

    7. My daughter took a video of my husband sleeping, and it has me chortling as I think about it. The cat was sitting on my husband. My daughter made snoring noises, then panned to the cat, and made mewing sounds. She panned back to my husband and made more snoring noises. As you can probably guess, my husband would not be amused by my sharing that video. But I can TALK about it.

    Happy final days of October, everyone!

  11. Farida, OH MY GOD good luck next week! I’m psyched for you. You will entirely rock that 5K, I know it.

    I also love The Friendship Wish. That art. I want to reach out and touch it.

    Kick #7 is making me laugh super hard.

  12. p.s. Kick #8: The fudge pie my husband just made. Do you see the drool on the computer screen?

  13. Powerful and beautiful illustrations.

    Jules – oh my, fudge pie! Yum!

    Farida – Good luck on the 5K! Kick #7 is hytsrerical.

    LW – Congrats on the callback! Go get ’em at that audition, and enjoy the cat-sitting.

    Jone – congrats on the win!

    Jama – that cupcake pillow sounds pretty cool.

    Zoe – PJ’s til afternoon is a great way to spend a day.

    My kicks:

    1) Last weekend I was in Atlanta for a good friend’s wedding – it was elegant, lovely and fun.
    2) Southern weather.
    3) Catching up with my friend and her family, they are all wonderful, quirky and charming, and great fun to be around.
    4) An afternoon spent at the High Museum with another friend who lives in Atlanta.
    5) Coming home again.
    6) This weekend at home.
    7) A visit today from another friend who lives several hours away. She brought me a gorgeous orchid and a yummy Pinot Noir as a housewarming.

    Oh,and I have an Un-Kick too – my email was hacked, so if any of you received spam from me, my apologies. I think the issue is fixed now.

    Have a wonderful week!


  14. Rachel, Ack! Email hack. (That’s the only poem I’ll write today.) So sorry to hear that.

    Atlanta sounds like it was fun. If you ever *drive* there and go through Nashville, please visit me!

  15. Hi Jules,

    I don’t know if this will be nice or not, but the program at the Eric Carle Museum on the day of the Michelson gallery is almost equally amazing. In the morning is Beth Krommes, then Jules Feiffer and finishing the day with Roger Sutton and Martha Parravano. Talk about an amazing day.


  16. Hi, Jules!

    I know I haven’t been around in a while. I’ve been so wrapped up in “grandmotherhood” and in spending time with my little granddaughter Julia Anna that I hardly think about anything else. My husband and I usually visit and have dinner with my daughter, son-in-law, and Julia Anna on Sundays. I also drive up to their house once or twice during the week to visit and make dinner. for them

    Saturday evening, we had Julia, my daughter, and my 93-year-old mother over for dinner. It was great having four generations of my family together for a few hours.

    I’ve had lots of great kicks in my life ever since Julia was born in August. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve been spending lots of money buying my granddaughter picture books that I plan to read to her when I start with my “nanny granny” duties in December.

    I hope your two little angels have been doing well.

    Love the Dillons’ beautiful art!!!

  17. Jules: Thanks! Sorry if the sharing the videos caused you any sort of coding issues. Yes, I had sent you one of those songs on Thursday when I first heard it. 🙂 As I just said to a close friend, cats are joy bringers and stress relievers. The word “pets” may be exchanged for “cats,” of course – It can be more general. Hello to your cats of four legs as well as those of two. 😉

    Jules and Rachel: Thank you. I am remaining calm as I await the casting director’s response. (He said he would let me know his decision, which is very nice, because often it’s simply this: if you got it, you hear; if you didn’t, you don’t.) I’m auditioning against physical type as it is – the breakdown clearly asks for a girl of another race – so that could be a huge factor in their decision.

    Jone and Jama: Thanks for taking a listen! I love people who can turn a phrase. I love it even more when they can also TUNE a phrase.

    Farida: Good luck with the 5k! I admire your determination and strength, both physically and mentally, to take on such a challenge. Thumbs-up for Westerfeld! Kudos to your cinematographer (and voiceover artist!)

    Rachel: Welcome home. 🙂 Hope your email is fine now.

  18. Darrin, sounds great to me. Wish I could see that, too.

    Elaine, THAT LUCKY GRANDDAUGHTER of yours! Thanks for visiting. I hope you are enjoying every moment. Wish I could meet her.

    Little Willow, no worries at all. It took about two seconds. Keep us updated on any great news re your auditions and callbacks! … I really like both songs but REALLY like “The Ladder,” as well as the animation. “I will be the one who preys upon you sweetly.” Thanks again.

  19. Just a vote here for one of my all-time Dillon faves: Numbers on the Loose. If only all Mother Goose versions were so cool…..

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