April 22, 2010


How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You? By Jane Yolen & Mark Teague. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $16.99.

Can You See What I See? Treasure Ship. By Walter Wick. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $13.99.

     Sometimes the creators of long-running series surpass themselves – as in these two books. As good as the How Do Dinosaurs series has always been – with its fanciful portrayals of accurately rendered dinosaurs rampaging through modern households, standing in for modern children – the latest entry is even better than most, because of the amount of interactivity between human parents and kids-as-dinosaurs. Instead of being incidental to Jane Yolen’s story, the parents here are integral to it, from the frowning mother watching her little (well, actually huge) Neovenator rubbing its eyes and crossing its legs after waking up in a bad mood, to the annoyed-looking mom trying to drive while her rambunctious Pachycephalosaurus kicks the seatback. Many of the How Do Dinosaurs books feature the kids-as-dinos alone on most pages, but this one has interactions with humans on every single page. The design seems to have inspired Mark Teague to make the dino drawings even more expressive than usual: the details of motion, the positions of limbs and wings, the tremendous expressiveness of those dinosaur faces, are completely enthralling. The size relationships are perfectly (if not always paleontologically accurately) rendered, whether a mom is reaching up to stroke a huge dino’s face or a small child is running away from a Chasmosaurus rampaging in a sandbox. The point of the book is that parents love their “little” dinosaurs despite all sorts of misbehaving. But the structure here differs from that in other How Do Dinosaurs books, which typically show a number of pages of misbehavior followed by a number of ones with correct ways to act. Here, bad and good are intertwined throughout: Tsintaosaurus “flooded the house when you played in the sink,” but on the very next page Antarctosaurus (watched by a quizzical cat as well as a human mom) “got out the mop and then cleaned up the floor!” The dancing, whirling, spinning and bouncing dinos are a wonder to behold, the soft-pedaled behavioral lessons are effectively conveyed, and the ways in which human parents handle their dino darlings are even more delightful than usual.

     The Can You See What I See? series has its own pattern: intricate miniatures artfully conceal a variety of specific objects that readers are invited to search for and find. But Walter Wick likes to give his books an unspoken story line as well, and in Treasure Ship, he has done so outstandingly by combining two striking visual techniques. One is the hide-in-plain-sight design always used in these books. The other is the zoom out: starting with an object that fills the entire frame, then showing that object, in smaller size, as part of a larger picture; then showing that picture as part of a still larger one; and so on. Wick uses the technique to perfection here: it would be easy to write a story about these pictures instead of (or in addition to) using them as puzzles. The first picture is a closeup view of a coin, supposed to be part of the treasure of a ship called the Bountiful. The next picture shows that the coin, and the large pearl necklace first seen next to it, are just two small items on the lip of an overturned golden cup, while the cup itself is just part of a treasure of gold and jewels. Next, a picture shows that all the treasure is only part of a larger scene…and then that scene widens to show that everything is located within a wrecked ship…and then, with another zoom out, the entire underwater derelict itself appears. And that is by no means the end, as Wick’s imagination pulls back even further to show the underwater wreck to be, in reality, a ship in a bottle – and there are more pullbacks, and more, and more, each one a delightful surprise and each a perfect prelude to the next. On every page appears the question, “Can you see what I see?” And as always, the objects are very difficult to pinpoint but are, like Poe’s purloined letter, placed in plain sight. There are so many objects to find that this book will keep readers involved for a long time: on just one page are “a ship propeller, hammer, 2 saws, an arrow, 5 anchors, 4 lobster claws, an elephant’s trunk, a grandfather clock, a fish hook, a fly, 3 keys, a lock, a blue umbrella, a black-billed gull, a sword, a spyglass and a pirate skull!” Excellent photography, a top-notch unspoken narrative, and a typical-for-this-series set of questions requiring close observation of intricate scenes add up to a book that is a delight on every level.

1 comment: