Review by New York Times Review
Big Books for Small People Revisit Tomi Ungerers surprising stories, pretend to cook and more in these largeformat illustrated books. ARRIVING AT A MOMENT when they seem perhaps especially welcome, these six large-format books might provide a bit of escape for young readers and grownups alike. They remind us that literature can be at least as strange and interesting as reality, and that, though there is more than enough despair and ugliness to go around, there is also - still - hope and beauty and imagination to spare. A TREASURY OF 8 BOOKS Written and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer 319 pp. Phaidon. $49.95. (Ages 4 to 8) A bold, graphic slipcase protects this delicious bubble-gum-pink-covered collection. Inside: Ungerer is everywhere. His energetic sketches fill the endpapers. His idiosyncratic script is used for the titles and typefaces. His quotations introduce each story. The layout is simple but ingenious and gives nearly all the space to the delightful, exuberant illustrations. They leap out at you from large, thick pages that have the smell and texture of construction paper. The stories themselves are always surprising and funny. Each has a moral like a modern Aesop's fable. There's "The Three Robbers," who turn good because of a little girl named Tiffany; there's "Moon Man," who learns that the home he was so desperate to leave, good or bad, was the place he most belonged. In his wonderfully warm letter to the reader, Ungerer says that he "lived through a war as a child, and saw a lot of terrible things. This is why I loathe injustice, violence and discrimination, and I long for respect and peace. I think it's very important to pass these values on, and hope it shows in my books." His are the kind of great books that continue to influence and inspire children to think hard - and, we hope, to grow up into respectful, peaceful people. THE LOST HOUSE Written and illustrated by B. B. Cronin 40 pp. Viking. $18.99. (Ages 3 and up) This dazzling and delightful "seek and find" book harkens to Maira Kalman's Max series with its whimsical drawings and unpredictable color combinations. "The Lost House" could be an adventurous spread from an architecture magazine: the creaky, drafty ancestral home of an eccentric Irish lord. The characters in this topsy-turvy world are Grandad and his two grandchildren, who seem to be a human/animal hybrid. They look like distant relatives of "Hello Kitty," but done in a wonderful Old World style. Each page is as beautiful and intriguing as the next. How long did Cronin sit crouched over his desk creating this splendid maze of architectural details, crooked antiques, knickknacks and other collectibles? It is great fun to search the monochromatic rooms for Grandad's belongings, whether his socks in the green living room or his teeth in the yellow bathroom (I still haven't found them). The "seek and find" element is a clever way of coaxing the viewer to spend time with the illustrations, carefully combing every nook and cranny. I was always surprised by what I found - many objects I am sure Cronin has tucked away somewhere in his own home. The book's finale takes place in a texture-filled, pattern-splattered, eyepopping "snuggery" where I would like to live. COOK IN A BOOK Pancakes! By Lotta Nieminen 16 pp. Phaidon. $14.95. (Ages 1 to 4) Some cooks only glance at a recipe to get the gist, while others follow instructions to a T. This stylish board book promotes the latter with its simple, graphic illustrations that resemble paintings by Frank Stella. Kids can pretend to cook using this very book instead of a toy, and there are no stains or spills or crumbs. Not even drawings of them. When you pull a tab to "pour" milk or turn a wheel to "whisk" the wet ingredients, it is clean, quiet and precise - like a Japanese tea ceremony. The book itself is a perfect square (think Josef Albers), fun and colorful. The most satisfying part is when you get to pop the little cardboard pancake out of the page, turn it, and press it into the next page to complete the illustration of a short stack of pancakes. The only problem is you can't actually eat them. For that, you must follow the recipe in the kitchen - where things might, finally, get messy. HELLO WORLD By Jonathan Litton Illustrated by Cartographik L'Atelier 16 pp. 360 Degrees. $19.99. (Ages 4 and up) The concept is as simple as the title suggests: how to say hello. In more than 150 languages. This large lift-the-flap book transports readers from Europe to North America to South America to Asia to Africa and, finally, Australia and Oceania. The idea might be: All humans can be united by a single greeting. We go to the islands of Vanuatu in the Pacific to learn about Lemerig, a language spoken by only two living people. We go to Namibia to learn about !Kung-Ekoka, a musical language of nasal tones and palatal clicks. We go to the Amazon rain forest, where we learn of 400 known languages, and a few more we still may not know about. Each new "hello" is a reminder of the complexity and diversity of humanity - and the immediacy of our connection. The last page warns us that by the end of the century, half of the world's languages may be lost. Will there be a time when humans all speak a single tongue? Well, as long as this book stays in print, at least one word's many translations will be remembered. NATURAL WORLD A Visual Compendium of Wonders From Nature By Amanda Wood and Mike Jolley Illustrated by Owen Davey 112 pp. Wide Eyed Editions. $27.99. (Ages 8 to 12) "Natural World" reads like a book of make-believe. It consists entirely of charts that relate a collection of short stories: "The Mighty Saguaro"; "Life at the Ends of the Earth"; "Heavenly Dancers" and so on. The hook is: They are all true. This is actually a reference book and a learning tool about science and nature. The illustrations resemble midcentury paintings that belong in a 1950s classroom or an old-fashioned natural history museum. Davey's drawings are charming and subdued and fill the pages with excellent compositions like "Chart No. 16: All About Feathers" or "Chart No. 23: Bewildering Beetles." The reader can journey in continuity from start to finish or, alternatively, use the color-coded arrows to search freely for any particular subject matter. The book is filled with fun facts: how the Green Turtle travels a thousand miles to lay eggs on the beach where it was born; how the Tailorbird "sews" together leaves to build its nest using "plant fibers or spider silk" ; how the skin cells on the Blue-Ringed Octopus change color to camouflage or warn enemies. Words that have been attributed - falsely - to Chief Seattle in 1854 (they were actually written by a television scriptwriter in 1972) struck me as fitting for this book: "What is man without the beasts? For if all the beasts were gone, man would die of a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected." HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS By J. K. Rowling Illustrated by Jim Kay 259 pp. Arthur A. Levine Books/ Scholastic. $39.99. (Ages 5 and up) If you always wished the Harry Potter series were illustrated, well, it is. In fact, Jim Kay is back for his second year at Hogwarts in "The Chamber of Secrets." I think Rowling has found her perfect match in Kay. He renders her elaborate vision in numerous vivid styles and variations. Some look like drawings from a dog-eared book of magic, some look like framed portraits by a Renaissance master, some look like stills from a movie. There are inky sketches and set-design renderings and scientific diagrams. Kay is an artist of great facility. I do not expect he would ever struggle to draw, for instance, a hand. (I do.) The illustrations I like best are the ones that catch you off-guard: a pencil sketch of Hermione in the library, a pastel of Hogwarts on a wintry night. This illustrated series will introduce Harry Potter to a younger audience. The very littlest ones might even look over the shoulder of an older sister or brother and be seduced by the glossy and masterly illustrations. ? JUMAN MALOUF is the author and illustrator of the middle-grade novel "The Trilogy of Two."
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [December 11, 2016]
Review by New York Times Review