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May 4, 2011

Security Blanket: Here Comes the Garbage Barge!

I feel like this choice is cheating a little, since it came out only last year, and got plenty of well-deserved coverage then (including a spot on the New York Times' list of the best children's books of the year, which it most certainly was). But Here Comes the Garbage Barge!, a collaboration between Jonah Winter and Red Nose Studio (the working name of artist-illustrator Chris Sickels), truly is the current obsession of my two-year-old, so I suppose it satisfies my, er, categorical imperative.

At any rate, it's pretty amazing. Winter, whose family I seem to be writing a lot about these days, shares lordship over the small but wonderful historical-fiction-picture-book genre with Lane Smith. This time, he's chosen as his inspiration a tale New Yorkers of a certain age will remember well: The barge full of garbage from Long Island that, after being refused landing in various locations in the hemisphere, sadly steamed around New York Harbor in 1987 for several months, the Flying Dutchman of trash. As usual, Winter frames his narrative with the true story while adding his own flights of fancy, and giving a tale that ends with a rather stern moral ("Don't make so much trash!") a light, jaunty, and always entertaining air.

It's the art, though, that's downright astonishing. The odyssey of the tugboat captain tasked with dragging the barge around North and Central America is portrayed in images (they're actually photographs) of 3-D sculpture scenes, essentially—all made of found objects. That is, trash. Each image is dazzling: remarkable for its complexity and for its simple, essential beauty, all at once. And the artist is able to make his story's characters as expressive as those in the best stop-motion animated films (with no assistance from voiceover artists!).

It's by far the best "you should recycle more" children's book I've ever seen. No, that's far-too-faint praise: It's among the best children's books I've seen, period. If by some chance, like me, you missed the rave reviews when it came out last year, give it a look. (Also, check out this cool video from the publisher, below, which shows how the illustrations were created!)

[Cover image courtesy of Random House.]

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