all the world
Cover illustration
See permission.
The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archivefor selections from previous months.
All the World

by Liz Garton Scanlon; illus. by Marla Frazee

Initially, this looks like just a gentle chronicle of a summer’s outing. Rhymed verse in tetrameter couplets begins each stanza with the specific (“Rock, stone, pebble, sand/ Body, shoulder, arm, hand/ A moat to dig, a shell to keep”) and then concludes with the broad (“All the world is wide and deep”), as illustrations follow various members of what turns out to be an extended family off on a seashore vacation. Scanlon carefully parcels out her economical poetry in spare yet quietly lyrical vocabulary, and the balance of concrete detail and lulling evocation is tuned effectively to interest and enchant young listeners; Frazee uses her broad canvas of oversized pages to create effervescent detailed scenes, many of them full-spread, of human activity.

A closer look, however, reveals shining, subtle craftsmanship that moves this title from merely enjoyable to genuinely inspired. The fluid text, with its gentle tidal shifting between the small and large, offers an illustrative opportunity that Frazee seizes with thoughtfulness and joy, turning the illustrations into a visual narrative that puts a concrete story to the more abstract words. Parents and kids dabble in the water, shop at a farmer’s market, wander through a tourist site (which looks rather like an old California mission), get caught in the rain (“Better luck another day”), take comfort and dinner at a friendly café, and head back to the old farmhouse (looks like Grandma and Grandpa’s place) that’s housing the whole clan. Events cunningly interlace, with figures and vehicles recurring from picture to picture and with focus shifting from small group to small group as the art follows first one branch of the multiracial family, then another, in scenes tidily teeming with people. Frazee’s watercolor and pencil visuals evince the sweet, dusty hues of deflated balloons, with her soft shadings in horizontal strokes adding structure and depth. Playing against those horizontals, though, is a repeated emphasis on curves, most especially the soaring curve of the earth, as the horizon softly mounds behind the players in scene after scene. Textual interpretations are nuanced and effective— “All the world is old and new” captions a spread wherein young kids clamber into an ancient tree as their caretaker sits below, tending the little red wagon that carries the young sapling purchased from the farmer’s market—and there’s a Virginia Lee Burton flavor to the soft strokes and muted tones.

There’s also a Mitsumasa Anno–like element in the visual threads drawn through the illustrations. Kids will catch on quickly and pore over the scenes to follow various characters and see what they’re up to in the casual, candid scenes, and there’s a rich vein to mine in illustrative interpretation and questioning: who, for instance, is related to whom and how, and what is the little beach girl displaying to family in her seemingly empty hands (text and context suggest, charmingly, an imaginary shell)? Illustrations move between big picture and small picture, group scenes and quick slice-of-life portraits: grandparents embrace, a mom studies textbooks intently as she feeds her baby, a girl cuddles her teddy bear with one arm as she chats on the phone, the two women whose tandem bike has darted from spread to spread sit as a cozy couple in the porch swing.

Beyond the literal story, the text and art together connote diversity and commonality, the connection between the local and the global, in ways that will be quietly suggestive but not obtrusive to kids. It’s an idyllic and hopeful picture, and it makes its argument compellingly by rooting it in family specifics that will allow kids from all kinds of families to recognize bonds similar to their own. In short, it’s a moving and accessible celebration of the poetry of ordinary human life.

Deborah Stevenson, Editor

all the world

Cover image by Marla Frazee from All the World ©2009. Used by permission of Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster.

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This page was last updated on October 1, 2009.