November 01, 2007


A Closer Look. By Mary McCarthy. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $16.99.

Where the Giant Sleeps. By Mem Fox. Pictures by Vladimir Radunsky. Harcourt. $16.

      The more closely young children observe the world around them, the more amazing things they will see. That’s the premise of both these books, but in very different ways. A Closer Look, the first children’s book by handmade-book creator Mary McCarthy, starts with abstract shapes and then “pulls back” to a wider view, showing kids ages 2-5 what larger thing includes the shapes. This is not done photographically but with attractive collages, such as the opening one, which is simply a large black dot entirely surrounded by a deep, rich red. The following pages show the dot, the red and a diagonal grey line, and then (in a still wider view) a portion of a second dot, and then a shape that almost looks like something, and finally – a ladybug perched on a leaf. The text here is minimal, which makes sense for this age group, and the observation game – which includes three objects in all – has a neat conclusion in which McCarthy offers a much wider view that shows everything happening within a flower garden. For parents, there is a final page explaining what she has portrayed – a nice touch for children who, after playing the “what is it?” game a few times, may want to know a little more about just what these fascinating real-world objects are.

      Where the Giant Sleeps is a bedtime rather than an “anytime” book, and it moves kids’ perception in more or less the opposite direction. That’s “more or less” because Mem Fox and Vladimir Radunsky start with a little boy, in bed, looking at a wide view of an imaginary landscape shaped like a giant (with trees for hair, houses for eyes, and so on), and then focus in more closely on what could be happening at various “parts” of the giant. For example, “here the fairy dozes” in the giant’s hair, which is a forest, and “here the dragon lays his head, breathing fire, and snoring,” beneath the lighthouse at the tip of the promontory that is one of the giant’s feet. After showing the entire giant at the start, Radunsky then shows only a portion of the figure as Fox describes someone or something sleeping – and then provides a closeup of the little boy spotting whatever is asleep. One page, for example, shows a field containing six cows and a haystack, as if seen through a telescope, as Fox writes that “in a haystack, safe and warm, a little goblin twitches.” The next page is a closeup of the big-lipped, big-eared goblin sleeping peacefully with a teddy bear that looks a lot like the little boy’s. Although not every creature in this book for ages 3-7 is sleeping – the elves are awake, sewing the boy a quilt so he can sleep comfortably – the bedtime message is clear. And the final two-page picture, reminiscent of the famous one in Goodnight Moon, neatly pulls all the elements of the “giant” together by showing all the objects in the boy’s very own room.

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