The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually to be given to an artist “who created the most distinguished picture book of the year.” (www.ala.org) In 1992, the winner of that prestigious award was David Wiesner, the children’s author and illustrator of the book Tuesday. Known for books with little or few words, Tuesday stays true to this artist’s format. The book opens with the words, “TUESDAY EVENING, AROUND EIGHT”.
It is easy to see why it became such a favorite. Simply it is the story of frogs unexpectedly taking flight from their pond, on lily pads. Through pictures only it chronicles the adventures of the frogs for one evening, until in the early morning light, the frogs lose their power of flight and have to return to their lives in the pond again. The story ends with the words, “NEXT TUESDAY, 7:58 P.M.” and shows pigs taking flight. There are no other words used to tell the story, only the pictures drawn by Wiesner.
On the first page of the story, Wiesner uses three panels to show the pond. He varies the perspective of the panels first showing it from a distance with a sharp use of contrast and primary color as the sun is setting. In the second panel, we move closer to see a turtle in the same pond with the grass blades clearly defined and the full moon just rising. Finally in the third panel the moon is low in the sky and zooms in on the turtle looking up, warily, into the sky.
In addition to his unusual use of panels to establish setting, the differing perspectives and contrast in each panel, Wiesner sticks to realistic drawings of the natural world using strong primary colors and complimentary colors (the green against the purple background) to create a picture visually pleasing to the eye. Although the pictures do not lack in detail, as attested to by the detail in the turtle’s shell and the tension drawn into his uplifted head, they are simplistic enough to “read” the story easily.
Therefore the second page comes as a surprise when Wiesner not only deviates from using the panels but uses 2 pages to create one picture. Here we see the frogs, looking strangely complacent as their lily pads lift into the air, rising above the pond, to the shock of the turtle and fish poking their heads from the water. The sheer size of the picture in comparison to the first page is a surprise, as well as the surprise of first seeing the “flying frogs”. The composition supports the emotional response expected in the book. As the cover of the book highlights a large clock, there is no foreshadowing to the young reader what was to come other than the wary look on the turtle’s face in the first page.
Wiesner surprises again with the third “page” (the book has no page numbers). He uses both styles. We get the overall impression of hundreds, (or perhaps more!) frogs flying across the sky, above a town, where only the birds can usually be found. However, he uses panels to highlight details from the flight. Another example of Wiesner’s excellence: the use of the facial expressions on the creatures. Clearly the frogs are delighted with their newfound power, as they terrorize birds, driving them from the electrical wires. The frogs are also experimenting with flight as they tilt, turn upside down and control their flight patterns.
As the frogs enter the town, there is a clear juxtaposition between the fantastic (bright green flying frogs on lily pads) and the ordinary (the darkened town full of houses similar to one another, the neat sidewalks, windows blackened as they occupants are sleeping).
Wiesner varies format again when he uses one page for one full illustration. There is tremendous detail in the picture of the gentleman sitting and eating a late night sandwich with a glass of milk, while frogs fly silently by his window, not quite visible to the man. In addition, while there have been strong use of purples, grey, browns, green and black with hints of white, this picture is shockingly bright. We see an all-white kitchen with yellow curtains and walls and silver appliances. On the opposing page, he lists only this: the time, 11:21 P.M.
The next several illustrations return to either 2 page, 1 page or 3 panel format as we view the adventures of the frogs as the watch television, fly through a clothesline of sheets and humorously get chased by a dog and then in droves, chase the dog. As we see the first hints of sunrise, the frogs fall from their lily pads. They are clearly shocked as they are falling from the sky and clinging to roofs and branches for support.
In full daylight, we see them hopping down a country lane back to their pond. Panels again give the details, which tell us there are varied emotions to returning to the pond; happiness, dreaming of doing it again and outright chagrin at having lost their flying option. This is told clearly through the facial expressions masterfully drawn on the frogs.
In the third to last illustration, again full of detail, we see the “investigation” of the night before. We see police, ambulance, reporters and ‘witnesses’ pondering the proliferation of lily pads everywhere on a bright and sunny day. Wiesner then surprises again in his last 2 illustrations which fit the mood. He surprises first by radically changing the color palate with a huge influx of coral and pale yellow against the darkening sky. Of course another surprise is when we see a pig’s shadow rising against the side of the barn and just a pig’s tail peeking from the corner of roof. In his last picture, pigs are bobbing around like overinflated balloons as clearly, they too take flight.
He also makes the more mundane aspects of the story familiar; TV, suburbia, the kitchen with its appliances and a man drinking a glass of milk. This makes the fantastic flying frogs all the more stunning, against such a pedestrian background.
Finally, using so few words allows the child to tell the story in a way that is familiar and empowering. We think in images-not written words. This makes the story very apparent to the reader, but also allows the reader to “think” the story in their own language and make their own inferences. This gives the young reader a lot of power. It also makes it possible for a child to “read’ this story to an adult. This is a rare occurrence in a child’s world-it makes the reading ground even between them and their “grown-ups” and easily permits them to read this story again and again without adult assistance.
“The Randolf Caldecott Medal” www.ala.org ALA American Library Association, 1996-2016.
Web. 11 Feb. 2016.
Wiesner, David. Tuesday. New York: Clarion Books, 1991. Print.