July 14, 2011


Magnetic Notepads: The Addams Family; Edward Gorey. Pomegranate. $7.95 each.

Arcimboldo Block Puzzle. Pomegranate Kids. $17.95.

David Sheskin’s Artful Animals Memory Game. Pomegranate Kids. $13.95.

     If you’re going to take notes – real, handwritten notes, not ones on a smartphone or a tablet, laptop or notebook computer – shouldn’t you do it in style? And if your style tends to the, shall we say, outrĂ©, shouldn’t you be able to accommodate your, ahem, peculiarities with something appropriate on which to jot down this or that? The folks at Pomegranate would clearly answer “yes” to both those questions (or however many questions are buried in those sentences). For amid the company’s fine-arts offerings and elegantly crafted books, there are a few notepads that ought to be odd enough for just about any taste. Take, for example, The Addams Family magnetic notepad. Its 70 lined pages neatly showcase, at the bottom, one of the drawings by Charles Addams (1912-1988) of his eponymous, ghoulishly adorable (or adorably ghoulish) family – which also appears in all its glory (if that’s the right word) on the notepad’s cover. The self-adhesive magnet makes this a neat notepad to stick on the refrigerator – especially useful if someone in the family who is not an Addams Family fan is trying to lose weight (scare them right off, it will). In truth, Addams was a subtle artist who preferred to imply grisly things rather than show them: a look at the Addams Family characters makes it instantly clear what they could do without actually showing you what they do do. In fact, the Addams clan seems positively harmless beside the far more elegant Edwardians of Edward Gorey (1925-2000), who visit mayhem upon one another in quite exemplary ways, then pop back indoors for a proper cup of tea (which, however, is as likely as not to be poisoned). There is a fine Gorey magnetic notepad available from Pomegranate, too, in exactly the same format as the Addams notepad, but this time with a Gorey drawing settled mischievously (or perhaps ominously) at the bottom right-hand side of each lined page. Gorey’s characters’ expressions are quite marvelous: when you see their faces at all (you often don’t), their wide-eyed look is one of amazement, fear, wonder, horror, expectation or uncertainty, or some mingling of those emotions with a few other unnamable ones. The elegance and care with which Gorey created his drawings pus them well beyond any standard of cartooning: Addams can readily be described as a cartoonist, but Gorey cannot be so easily pigeonholed. One thing is for sure about these offbeat and highly attractive (if somewhat bizarre) Pomegranate notepads: they are intended for adults, not for children.

     Ah, but Pomegranate has some oddities for children, too. Other firms’ kids’ lines do not challenge young people’s minds and perceptions the way Pomegranate’s does. Take the Arcimboldo Block Puzzle, for example. Pomegranate has a series of these puzzles, which draw on the company’s excellent fine-arts offerings for adults, but in a child-friendly way. The works of Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593), however, are very different from most fine art, and this puzzle is accordingly a little, well, strange. Arcimboldo used assemblages of fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish and books to create his portraits of people and mythical characters – that is, each character is made up of parts, each of which is recognizable as, say, a grape or a tree root. Arcimboldo influenced Salvador Dali, among other 20th-century painters, and it is easy to see why. It is also easy to see how fascinating his portraits are when incorporated into Pomegranate’s block puzzle. There are 12 blocks that, when arranged properly, make six different pictures. Four of them represent the four seasons, and each of those contains objects associated with each season – spring flowers and autumnal fruits, for example. This makes the seasonal portraits somewhat easier for kids to create than the two other puzzles, “Flora” and “Vertumnis (Emperor Rudolf II),” which are both well-known in adult art circles but may be a bit, well, puzzling for kids. No matter – the puzzles of this puzzle are well worth puzzling out, and the quality of reproduction of Arcimboldo’s work is quite high for this medium. But Pomegranate does not look only to the past for child-oriented fun. David Sheskin’s Artful Animals is very up-to-date indeed – it is one of a series of memory games incorporating paired cards and an interesting little booklet. Sheskin’s gently whimsical animals appear in A-through-Z form (although not all letters are represented) in the booklet, which contains small pictures duplicating those on the cardboard cards. The cards themselves – 72 in all, which means 36 pairs – are meant to be matched: kids turn all of them face down and pick two, keeping the pair if they match and returning them to the face-down position if they don’t. Then the next player does the same thing, with the eventual winner being the one who holds the most matching pairs. The game is simple and straightforward, but also challenges memory (and in that respect can be useful for memory-challenged adults as well as for children). As for the booklet, it offers some genuinely interesting information: “Octopi can deliver painful bites laced with venomous saliva” and “Ostrich eggs weigh three pounds,” for example. Education, fun and art, all packed neatly together – Pomegranate has a winner here.

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