Chris Raschka is an illustrator and picture book maker whose talent lies in his ability to express the ineffable -- those subtle, emotional nuances; the things that can't be said in words, or, for that matter, represented in straight-ahead, realistic pictures. What he is after in Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, Mysterious Thelonious, and John Coltrane's Giant Steps -- his three books about major figures in jazz -- is a lyrical approach to illustration that frees his lines to dance, to play, to jam -- with color, composition, typography.
Happy to Be Nappy is another tour de force of illustration, and there are few moments in the contemporary picture book that compare with Raschka's sublime setting of this bell hooks text that celebrates the individual -- in all her delightful uniqueness. The recent Be Boy Buzz brings together hooks and Raschka again for another extraordinary celebration of young African American maleness, this time in their All Bliss Boy. These are subtle, radiant books that implicitly reflect facets of race with a naturalness that is free of didacticism or labored commentaries.
Elsewhere, Raschka is working with other familiar, vital ideas, as with his portrayal of the friendship that develops between two seemingly very different kids (temperamentally, racially) in Yo! Yes?. And he will return, in the sequel, Ring! Yo!, to this important theme of how differences may be bridged through understanding, generosity of spirit, and the recognition of our essential similarities.
In Yo! Yes?, a black child and a white child meet and, after quickly sorting through their differences in language and appearance, decide to become friends. Little is said, little is done, though their body language speaks volumes. They "get" that they like each other -- at least they're willing to step across the divide to meet, without one having to change to please the other. It's an amazing moment in children's books, and a cause for optimism about the healing of our culture's racial divide because of the generations of children who will, hopefully, internalize Chris Raschka's and others' visions of harmonious possibility.
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Copyright 2007© Michelle Martin
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