Welcome back to Paperback Throwback, where I highlight a book from my ever-growing collection of older paperbacks, ‘90s and prior. Come check out everything from Zebra’s line of horror to Scholastic’s preteen Apple Paperbacks, and everything in-between— you’ll know them by their stylishly cheesy covers, flashy plots, and cheap prices.
Join me on this stroll down Literary Memory Lane. Stops include Sweet Valley High, Fear Street, and anywhere else mass market paperbacks may be lurking.
This week’s throwback comes a bit early in the season.
Anyone who has ever seen even one Stephen Gammell illustration could immediately pick another out of a lineup. Often created using watercolors, Gammell’s work has a unique style reliant on careful line work mixed with almost chaotic splashes and spatters. From lesser illustrators, this might come across as muddled, but Gammell is a master at controlling his illustrations, pushing them to suit the needs of each individual book.
It’s a skill that’s certainly served him well in a publishing career that spans from the early 1970s to the present. Many fans might know him from his collaboration with Alvin Schwartz on Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark— his macabre pictures have haunted readers since their debut in 1981. However, the majority of his career has had a lighter touch, with books like Twig Boy and Song and Dance Man, for which he won the Caldecott Medal in 1989.
Even with such a variety of books to choose from, Gammell’s style is perhaps best matched with his 1997 book Is That You, Winter? It follows Old Man Winter as he wakes up in an awful mood— which is nothing new. But as his mood darkens, out comes the snow and ice and all sorts of winter weather. And yet … there just might be a reason he makes it snow time and time again.
Gammell’s pandemonium is on full display. As Old Man Winter, personified as a sort-of cowboy, loads up his pickup truck to deliver winter yet again, Gammell thrashes the page with heavy blues and whites, rustling up a storm. Even without the sparse text pushing the story along, the illustrations stand on their own. As the breeze picks up on the page, spinning snow around into a full-blown blizzard, it practically looks as though the wind will start turning the pages— all the way to their heartwarming conclusion.
And that’s a testament to the wonder of Stephen Gammell.
Title: Is That You, Winter?
Author: Stephen Gammell
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 1997
Classification: Picture Book