floraandtheflamingoCover

Flora and the Flamingo

by Molly Idle

{published 2013 by Chronicle Books}

I think the first Molly Idle illustration I ever saw was something from her latest release, Tea Rex. She had me at the pale pink and yellow striped wallpaper. Done for.

But the pale pink and yellow in a freshly-cracked-open Flora and the Flamingo might have pushed me over the ooooooh-top.

That bright yellow is a perfect complement to the sweet shades of pink. And of course, it’s also the cheery color of dear Flora’s daisy-spotted swim cap. And note something about that deceptively simple tagline, Friendship is a beautiful dance.’ Besides being a lovely sentiment, it sets up the reader to really count the time, hear the music, and expect an overwhelming crescendo.

I was entirely swept away.

The book opens on a flamingo in a perfect passé. But then…

Here she comes. In floppy black flippers, and already in stark contrast to the flamingo’s lean grace.But Flora is unabashedly confident, and sidles right up to the flamingo, mirroring his move. And do you see the flaps? Molly Idle’s animation background breaks through the static page turn of the picture book, and requires the reader to be participatory, to be part of the dance.So much to love here. The once confident Flora is now coy and demure. If that’s not an eye for mischief, I’m not sure what is.

Also? Her roundness is part of her charm, right?! I take a beginning ballet class for adults, and this kinship to Flora makes me feel like I fit right in at the barre. Love her for that!And so they dance.

Have you noticed their spatial separation up until this point? Flora firmly planted on the right, the flamingo steady and stable on the left. Until this spread! Flora jetés straight across the gutter to her partner. That spread above stunned me, made me gasp, and then made me cheer.After some pages of very cute choreography, the flamingo forgets his manners (I assume he had them in the first place, as dapper flamingos usually do, right?) and teases the upside down and awkward moves of Flora. She stumbles and spills and is so very sad. And there she is, all alone, and back on the right hand side of the spreads.

Until…He dances to her. It’s his turn to cross the gutter, to patch things up with Flora, to offer up apologies and invite her to dance again.

From a design perspective, that movement is subtle, simple, and utterly brilliant. From a story-telling perspective, the exact same thing is true.For much of the book, Flora and her friend have been relatively small on the page, allowing for lots of white space. That space lets these characters live at the heart of the book, and leaves room for the dance of friendship to reverberate.

That’s why this near-final spread is so soaring. The steps have been small but meaningful, and the rhythm of their dance echoes their size on the page. But now, they launch out of frame together. The left side/right side split is irrelevant, and the crescendo of their dance matches their mended-up and larger than life friendship.

Now, I’m not much of a betting girl. (Except for those early 2000s when all I wanted to do was play poker. True story. And I was halfway decent, but my sister was always better.) But if I had to put all of my money on the top Caldecott contender for this year? This one, by leaps and bounds.

ch

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26 thoughts on “Flora and the Flamingo

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  5. Wow, this is an absolutely fabulous review Carter. It is passionate, comprehensive and scholarly. And it really deals head on with this book’s themes and artistry. It may not win the Caldecott Medal, but an Honor is definitely a very good possibility.

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