2012 Caldecott Medal Winner: A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka
3/23/2012 5:01:00 PM
A Ball for Daisy is the sweet, wordless story of Daisy, a dog who loves her big red ball more than anything. She plays with her ball, sleeps with her ball and takes her ball to the park. But life comes crashing down when a bigger dog steals Daisy’s ball and accidentally breaks it. Daisy doesn’t know what to do; she becomes so sad even her owner can’t cheer her up. However, there might just be a surprise in store. When Daisy returns to the park the next day, she finds the same dog with a bright new ball waiting for her.
Chris Raschka does a fantastic job creating a sense of whimsy and fun throughout his book. The quick brush strokes used to draw Daisy give her a playful feel, as if she is always dashing here and there. Many of the pages are split into different sized panels. For instance, a full page illustration depicting Daisy’s owner telling her it’s time for a walk is followed by four horizontal panels that show Daisy running back and forth across the width of the pages. The backgrounds, painted in watercolor, are bright and airy with a fresh and summery feel. Thematic colors shift with Daisy’s feelings throughout the pages: soft blue and yellow backgrounds when she is happily playing with her ball transform to bruised purples and dark grays when her beloved toy is destroyed.
For a child, the loss or destruction of a special toy can feel like the end of the world, as it did for Daisy. Daisy’s facial expressions mirror these feelings: looking at her owner as if she’s about to cry, howling when she realizes her ball is gone for good, and seeking comfort. She is confused when her ball breaks, she tries to fix it, and when she can’t she simply breaks down. But Daisy’s kind mother reacts as any loving parent would; she consoles Daisy, but gives her some space to be sad. And when she brings Daisy back to the park, she shares in her joy at seeing the brand new ball. Ultimately, Raschka is telling kids it’s okay to be sad sometimes when you miss something or someone, but there may be a happy moment waiting for you right around the corner.
The tone of the story is mirrored in the perspective of the illustrations. For much of the book, the perspective is down on Daisy’s level: we see what she sees, the legs of her owner, fire hydrants, trees, and, of course, her bouncing ball. When Daisy is about to receive her new ball from the dog in the park, the illustrations open up: we begin to see a full view of her world including the people that live in it. This dramatic shift in perspective mirrors that of a child who realizes that all is not lost, life can change, things can be replaced and you can make friends with new people.
When I first heard A Ball for Daisy won the Caldecott Medal this year, I have to admit I was a little disappointed. While I think Chris Raschka is a fantastic illustrator, I saw so many beautiful, inspiring picture books last year that I felt were more deserving. (Many of them ended up with Caldecott Honors). That said, when I took a closer look at Daisy and began to comprehend just how expertly Chris uses art to convey this story, I came to appreciate how substantial this contribution truly is to the cannon of children’s literature. Wordless books are great for any young child (even those who are starting to read words), and Raschka’s second Caldecott Medal winner is among the best out there.