After Jillian Tamaki received Caldecott recognition for the graphic novel This One Summer last February, you can bet your honor seals that people are looking closely at all types of picture books in 2015. One title that I hope this year’s Caldecott committee will bring to the table is Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing’s Flop to the Top!. Now I know what some of you might be questioning, and here are my responses: Yes, it’s a comic book. Yes, it’s an early reader. And yes, it’s also a picture book (to me at least).
This story benefits from its format, as panels set pace and mood through their sizes, layouts, borders, and background colors. For example, when Wanda’s jealousy grows at her pet-gone-viral (20 million likes!), the frame in which she appears becomes bordered in a thick red line; when she realizes in horror that she’s been out-celebritied by “Floppy Dog” Wilbur, the fill of her panel is all black. Later, when Wanda trails Wilbur and “Sassy Cat” on her bicycle as they drive away in a snazzy limo, a brisk pace is set through an inlay of panels on a double-page spread. When Wanda finds Wilbur and makes her final apologetic plea, she appears content in a narrow, horizontal panel in the middle of the page. The symmetry of this image (Wanda sandwiched between two security guards) provides focus. White space around a close-up of Wilbur in the following panel marks the beginning of the story’s resolution.
The physical sizes, colors, and borders of speech balloons emphasize plot and characterization, as seen when Wanda declares “You are a BAD DOG” and her oversized statement is bordered in a thick black line, displaying her vehemence. From the “many faces of Floppy Dog” on the endpapers (spoiler alert: they’re all pretty much the same) to siblings James and Jade’s defiance of gender norms through their toy choices and pink and blue-colored speech balloons, illustrations provide further depth to character not reflected in the text.
There is an air of sophistication about Weing and Davis’s soft palette and layered images, which are drawn and colored digitally and resemble transparent tissue paper, or even stained glass. Surreal shapes, diagonal lines, and analogous coloring heighten emotion and highlight the crowd’s outrageous, herd-like behavior, all the while drawing readers’ eyes to the main characters’ actions amidst the chaos. Smooth, curvy shapes emphasize the human nature of the story and reinforce the happy, hopeful ending, while hip Instagram-esque photo boxes and the recurring star motif (as seen on the stage, in the sky, in Wanda’s clothing, and elsewhere) express the theme of celebrity and raise questions about its importance.
What do you all think? Does this book — like Wilbur — have star status?
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