April 17, 2014
Techie Tiger 300-Piece Jigsaw Puzzle. By Robert Pizzo. Pomegranate. $14.95.
When I Am Not Myself. By Kathy DeZarn Beynette. Pomegranate. $14.95.
If books can be puzzling, it seems only fair that puzzles can be “book-ing.” Or at least book-ish. Techie Tiger is a character in Robert Pizzo’s very clever The Amazing Animal Alphabet of Twenty-Six Tongue Twisters, published by Pomegranate last year. The page devoted to him reads, “Techie Teenage Texas Tiger Texts Text To Tennessee Toads.” And there you see Techie, complete with 10-gallon hat, sprawled on a bed amid typical teen technology, with a poster of the Tennessee Toads rock band on the wall, texting “C U @ the show” to the musicians. It is a very funny scene, made more so by the realistic-looking-but-deliberately-overdone tiger art on which it is centered. It is also a very colorful scene, with primary colors splashed everywhere and complemented with judicious use of black, white and grey. It is, in fact, a scene that lends itself very well to enlargement, and now it is available in a two-foot-by-18-inch size. The catch: you have to put it together, slowly and carefully. Pomegranate has turned Techie Tiger into the star of a 300-piece jigsaw puzzle, which comes packaged in a sturdy cardboard box inside which the pieces are presented within a resealable one-gallon plastic bag – the better to keep them together. The “ArtPiece Puzzle” line is a unique bit of entertainment from Pomegranate, with puzzles drawn from fine art, architecture and other fields as well as, in this case, a book for young readers. An unusually clever spinoff, Techie Tiger 300-Piece Jigsaw Puzzle is a great deal of fun to look at, a challenge (but not an unreasonably difficult one) to assemble, and a fine tie-in to encourage reading of Pizzo’s book for anyone who may encounter the puzzle without having read the work from which it is drawn. The book itself is offbeat and unusual, the pulling of a puzzle from Pizzo’s pages perhaps proving the perceptive perspicacity of Pomegranate’s promotional penchant. See? Pizzo’s alliteration is catching.
The puzzling is of a different sort in Kathy DeZarn Beynette’s When I Am Not Myself and is altogether more existential – not that that word itself appears in a short, small-size hardcover book intended for young readers. The “who am I?” notion, though, can be a puzzle at any age, and that is what Beynette explores wittily and a touch wistfully here. Each page features a full-color illustration of a four-line piece of poetic whimsy and thoughtfulness focusing on an animal that the reader may “be” at one time or another: “When I’m a Giraffe/ My food’s high on a shelf;/ I put it up there/ To share just with myself.” Most entries also show an earlier version of the finished illustration – one in which words, art or both differed from the final product. The Giraffe, for example, has its neck bent much farther back in the early drawing than in the final one, but the quatrain is the same. For the Zebra, the animal’s entire pose changes subtly between the two pieces of art, and the original plain background becomes a checkerboard. The poem changes, too, ending up: “When I am a Zebra/ My stripes look OK,/ But I’d like to try/ Wearing checks for one day.” In the original version, the middle lines read, “I’m sure stripes look okay,/ But I just want to try.” Small differences, perhaps, but ones sufficient to induce Beynette to make changes before completing the page. There is some social commentary in When I Am Not Myself, as in the piece about kittens, which has the word “adopt” at the top: “When I am a Kitten/I wait in a row/ For someone to love,/ For someplace to go.” But by and large, the book is simply an imaginative journey through the minds and appearances of various animals as a child might think of them. And it ends, suitably and winningly, with a page that starts, “When I am Myself,” featuring eight different self-imaginings as animals – not all of which have appeared previously in the book, but all of which are both charming and amusing….as is the entire book itself.