As I’m sure you’ve heard the news already but in case you haven’t, yet another star in the Caldecott firmament went out. Leo Dillon, perhaps best known as the first African-American winner of the Caldecott Award, has passed away following complications with a recent surgery. For a recap of his history, his life with Diane, and his work you can read School Library Journal’s excellent obit here. One thing that I would like to point out is that unlike some artists, even at the grand old age of 79 the quality of art Leo produced with Diane never faltered and never dipped. Last year’s Never Forgotten was a perfect example of how he and Diane were better than ever by the end. The man will be seriously missed.
You may read the PW obit here.
This month couldn’t end soon enough.
Leo Dillon has passed away. Over a career that spanned five decades, the formidable illustrator, along with his collaborator and wife Diane, won numerous awards, including two Caldecott Medals (Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, 1976 and Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions, 1977), a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, and several Coretta Scott King Honors.
Editor Phyllis J. Fogelman shares her thoughts about the Dillons in a 1976 piece in The Horn Book Magazine.
In this entertaining article from a 1977 issue of The Horn Book Magazine, Leo and Diane pay tribute to each other — and son Lee talks about them both.
The Dillons in 1977. Photograph by Kenneth M. Bernstein.
The Dillons at the Eric Carle Museum in 2008. Photo by Deborah Hallen.
By Patricia C. McKissack
Illustrated by Leon and Diane Dillon
Schwartz & Wade
Ages 4 and up
On shelves October 11, 2011
The more I read children’s literature the more I come to realize that my favorite books for kids are the ones that can take disparate facts, elements, and stories and then weave them together into a perfect whole. That someone like Brian Selznick can link automatons and the films of Georges Melies in The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Kate Milford can spin a story from the history of bicycles and the Jake Leg Scandal in The Boneshaker thrills me. Usually such authors reserve their talents for chapter books. There they’ve room to expound at length. And Patricia McKissack is no stranger to such works of fiction. Indeed some of her chapter books are the best in a given library collection (I’ve a personal love of her Porch Lies). But for Never Forgotten Ms. McKissack took tales of Mende blacksmiths and Caribbean legends of hurricanes and combined them into a picture book. Not just any picture book, mind you, but one that seeks to answer a question that I’ve never heard adequately answered in any books for kids: When Africans were kidnapped by the slave trade and sent across the sea, how did the people left behind react? The answer comes in this original folktale. Accompanied by the drop dead gorgeous art of Leo & Diane Dillon, the book serves to remind and heal all at once. The fact that it’s beautiful to both eye and ear doesn’t hurt matters much either.
When the great Mende blacksmith Dinga found himself with a baby boy after his wife died he bucked tradition and insisted on raising the boy himself. For Musafa, his son, Dinga called upon the Mother Elements of Earth, Fire, Water and Wind and had them bless the child. Musafa grew in time but spent his blacksmithing on creating small creatures from metal. Then, one day, Dinga discovers that Musafa has been kidnapped by slave traders in the area. Incensed, each of the four elements attempts to help Dinga get Musafa back, but in vain. Finally, Wind manages to travel across the sea. There she finds Musafa has found a way to make use of his talent with metal, creating gates in a forge like no one else’s. And Dinga, back at home, is comforted by her tale that his son is alive and, for all intents and purposes, well.
McKissack’s desire to give voice to the millions of parents and families that mourned the kidnapping of their children ends her book on a bittersweet note. After reading about Musafa’s disappearance and eventual life, the book finishes with this: “Remember the wisdom of Mother Dongi: / ‘Kings may come and go, / But the fam
By Nicki Richesin, The Children’s Book Review
Published: February 11, 2012
In celebration of African American History month, I discovered some especially moving books to share with The Children’s Book Review. Fighting for justice and equality through solidarity and courage, these books uncover the truth of the African American experience whether it’s during the time of the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement or even today.
By Kadir Nelson
In truly stunning paintings, Nelson follows the trajectory of the African-American experience in all of its harrowing and haunting glory. Beginning with slavery and ending with the civil rights movement, he gently describes the events to enlighten and as he explains in his gentle prologue, “make some things known before they’re gone for good.” You’ll find more details on Nelson’s remarkable book in these two stories from NPR and The New York Times and additional notes from the publisher. (Ages 8-11. Publisher: HarperCollins)
By Margaree King Mitchell; illustrated by James E. Ransome
It’s almost incredible to recall that Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong were not allowed as audience members in many of the theaters where they performed sold-out, standing-room-only shows. In Mitchell’s story, a small-town woman with a magnificent voice decides to bring her granddaughter along on tour. Although they are harassed, refused service and even payment from one stage manager, Grandmama keeps singing to inspire and bring people together with courage and the power of her conviction. (Ages 5-9. Publisher: HarperCollins)
By Shane W. Evans
In this eloquent book by Shane W. Evans, author of Underground, he recounts the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. His bold illustrations depict families as they make their way to the Lincoln
My heart goes out to the children’s book world today as we say goodbye to one of the most beloved and respected illustrators of our time. I only met Leo a few times in NY, but it was enough to share a hearty laugh and let him know how much he and his wife’s work meant to me…to all of us. Condolences to his wife and illustration partner, Diane, and their son as they say goodbye. Let’s raise our pencils in tribute. To all of his friends and longtime colleagues, I am so sorry for your loss.