August 20, 2015
(++++) LET’S SEE
The Napping House. By Audrey Wood. Illustrated by Don Wood. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $7.99.
The Full Moon at the Napping House. By Audrey Wood. Illustrated by Don Wood. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $17.99.
Hey, Seymour! A Search & Find Fold-Out Adventure. By Walter Wick. Scholastic. $18.99.
It has been more than 30 years since The Napping House first appeared – anyone who here breathes a sigh of nostalgia is dating himself or herself. But Audrey and Don Wood’s 1984 book, which is now available in board-book format, is as wonderful a blend of words and pictures as ever. Using the old “house that Jack built” format to pile one event on another, The Napping House really does pile one thing upon the next upon the next: it starts at night with a bed, on which a snoring granny is sleeping, onto whom a dreaming child climbs, upon whom a dog flops down for a snooze, followed by a cat and then a mouse. Then everything unravels as a flea bites the mouse, causing a chain reaction that wakes up the cat, dog, child and granny, by which time it is morning and everybody bounces out of bed to greet the new day. What makes The Napping House a classic is the way the rhythmic simplicity of the story is illustrated with so many action poses: the boy’s pillow on the granny’s head, with the boy dreamily perched on top; the dog lying upside-down on the boy, who has turned around and is now snuggled into the granny’s legs; the tranquility of granny, boy, dog, cat and mouse, all curled up together in the most peaceful scene of the book – after which appear pictures such as the hilarious one of the scared cat with fur bristling, eyes wide open and all four paws thrust out to the side with claws fully extended. Then the cat lands on the dog, which executes a hilarious leap into the air – a captivating scene in which child and granny are still asleep, but readers can foresee their rude awakening coming a second later. And so it goes from start to finish: what you see in the book beautifully complements what you read (or, for the youngest children, hear as the book is read aloud), with the result being a delight from start to finish.
The Full Moon at the Napping House is brand-new and a sequel – what took Audrey and Don Wood so long? It is the inevitable flip side of the original book: it starts with the same house, still at night, but now “everyone is restless” as the light of the full moon floods the bedroom. Now granny is sleepless, the child is fidgety, the dog is playful, the cat is prowling, and the mouse – well, the mouse is worried, with nobody getting any rest. The scenes of nighttime activity here are as much fun as were the original ones of nighttime inactivity that would later become very active indeed. The solution to the sleeplessness problem is a clever one, brought about by introducing yet another character, even smaller than the mouse: a cricket, whose chirping “full-moon song” gradually calms the restless occupants of the house so they can, one by one, get some sleep. The mouse calms the cat, which “gentles the dog,” which “snuggles the boy, who hugs the granny,” as everyone settles down in or near the bed for some much-needed and clearly well-deserved slumber. This is the “bedtime book” opposite of the “wake-up book” that was The Napping House, and it is every bit as beautifully structured and illustrated in every bit as effective a way. In fact, the pictures are so similar that a child seeing the two books at the same time will naturally assume they were created as a pair rather than a generation apart. They are paired now, in any case, and deserve to be – and will no doubt continue to be.
Walter Wick has created many visually striking books that stand alone but at the same time relate clearly to each other. His beautifully photographed displays of small objects lie at the heart of the I Spy and Can You See What I See? series. His trademark is extreme clarity of vision that actually makes it harder to spot specific items within his photos – and spotting those items is the whole point, as Wick provides clues that somehow make it both easier and harder to spot the objects to which he refers. Hey, Seymour! A Search & Find Fold-Out Adventure goes even beyond Wick’s other books by introducing a new element: fold-out pages. These make the book a truly huge one – it is already a large-size volume, enlarged further by the fold-outs. The 10 scenes here are constructed in Wick’s usual way, using real objects that are photographed, in some cases, against digitally painted backgrounds. The key is that there are a lot of real objects, and Wick’s puzzle clues are designed to get kids (and parents!) searching for specific ones. This is never easy – certainly not here. Seymour is a small articulated toy who has a dog, Buttons, with whom he has adventures, the nature of which Wick explains at the back of the book (which also offers several bonus puzzles for readers whose eyes and minds have not yet been sufficiently stretched). The tremendous crowding of colorful objects on every page – a Wick specialty – makes his simple-sounding clues very difficult indeed: “I see a clock,/ a cowboy hat,/ whiskers on/ a yellow cat:/ purple grapes,/ and A, B, C,/ a smile on/ a bumblebee.” The thing is, there is so much visible that picking individual items out of the carefully arranged apparent clutter takes a lot of time and effort – pleasant effort, to be sure, but effort nonetheless. The very large size of the foldouts here makes individual items larger but also means there is room for more of them: readers/viewers will have to search very carefully indeed among pages that expand in varying ways (one folds completely out to the right, the next folds up, several fold to the right but expand by only half a page, and so forth). The pictures themselves, considered as photographs, are attractive and sometimes even on the verge of remarkable. One showing Seymour holding up a spring while contemplating a page showing a “junk robot plan,” all in a space where pieces of junk that appear to be robot parts clutter every inch, is particularly special – even before it folds out to reveal a fully assembled robot striding and stamping about. Both parents and kids will have a great time unraveling these mysteries – which, however, are no easier to solve for adults than for children, a fact that is one of Wick’s books’ many charms.