December 31, 2015


The White House: A Pop-Up of Our Nation’s Home. By Robert Sabuda. Scholastic. $29.99.

Coloring Crush. By the editors of Klutz. Illustrations by Angelea Van Damm. Klutz. $16.99.

     Books can be much more than just words and illustrations on paper. Special designs can turn books into something beyond the sequential-reading norm, even making them approximate works of art. Robert Sabuda’s pop-up books are a good case in point: they are elegant, involving and informative all at once, their cut-out designs and three-dimensional presentation making the material they communicate more real-seeming than the same information when presented in traditional words-and-illustrations form. Of course, the pop-up format does not allow a lot of information to be communicated, so it works best with material that is highly visual and can be shown fairly easily. A tour of the White House fits the bill nicely, and with 2016 being a presidential election year, Sabuda’s The White House is timely as well as attractive. Obviously the book does not try to show all 132 White House rooms – it focuses on the best-known ones and also offers looks at the North Face and South Face of the building. There is a bit of history written here (e.g., the fact that every president since John Adams has lived in the White House), and there is some material that is even more interesting because it is shown here: the transformation of what used to be Abraham Lincoln’s study into the Lincoln bedroom is presented visually through a particularly clever bit of paper design. Less fortunate than this element of The White House is the connective tissue that Sabuda supplies in the form of a somewhat adapted version of the poem Inauguration Day by Richard Watson Gilder (1844-1909). The poem’s verbal simplicity undoubtedly made it attractive to Sabuda, but its simplistic, rather jingoistic nature and poor poetic quality pull down the overall effect of what is otherwise a strong and very attractive presentation. Still, it is not for the words that most people will want this book, and not on the words that most families will focus while unfolding the pages and peeking into the nooks and crannies that Sabuda delineates with such skill. This is a visual work above all, and as such is highly effective in providing a once-over-lightly look at one of the most-recognizable, enduring symbols of the United States.

     Works with the Klutz imprint have been more than “mere” books for decades – since 1977. Klutz creates not books but “books-plus” projects, in which spiral-bound, lie-flat narrative sections explain how to do all sorts of crafts, while attached supplies provide all or almost all the material needed to follow the instructions. This is a highly attractive all-in-one approach that really has stood the test of time. Coloring Crush is a fine example of the well-designed cleverness that is a hallmark of these project-oriented offerings. This is no mere coloring book – there is nothing “mere” about a Klutz production – but a book whose perforated pages are easy to remove and can in some instances be readily transformed into postcards or greeting cards. From generalized psychedelic-like designs to pictures as varied as two intertwined seahorses, a cactus in a pot, a couple of pairs of sunglasses whose elaborate frames cry out for color, and butterflies and hearts – and much more – Coloring Crush gives kids wonderful ways to express their creativity. It gives them the means to do so, too: it is packaged with five double-tipped pencils, providing 10 different colors. And the book has genuine instructional value: the opening pages explain the differences that result when the pencil is held at various angles, show some techniques that produce colors in several ways, and give examples of color blending that can be done using the included pencils. To-the-point tips (to the pencil point, that is) explain what is possible when using a single color in several ways, what happens when darker colors are placed adjacent to light ones, and more. Coloring Crush is a lot of fun, and Klutz is careful to emphasize that “there’s no wrong way to color” and that no matter how elaborate the provided line drawings may be, it is fine to color outside them: “lines are more like suggestions, anyway.” Kids from the meticulous to the wild will find plenty here to engage their inner artists and put them out there on super-colorful display.

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