December 15, 2016


Pig the Pug. By Aaron Blabey. Scholastic. $14.99.

Robert Pizzo’s Industrial Strength Coloring Book. By Robert Pizzo. Quill Driver Books. $12.95.

     If you are looking for a last-minute holiday gift for someone, adult or child, who sees things a bit differently from the way everyone else sees them, here are a couple of excellent possibilities. “Seeing” is what the cover of Pig the Pug is all about: Aaron Blabey shows the dog’s face in extreme close-up, his huge eyes looking in two slightly different directions, his muzzle seeming for all the world like a jowly scowl. Pugs really do look something like this, but Blabey’s exaggeration makes Pig realer than real. Open the book, and on the inside front cover is a built-in bookplate that says “This book belongs to,” after which someone has scrawled “PIG.” And right there is the book’s theme, even before the first page of the story. Pig, first seen in the story pages sitting on his rump with his legs curled protectively around his very full food dish, is “greedy and selfish/ in most every way,” hogging all his toys and being exceedingly nasty – but, oddly, rather adorable about it – to the other family pet, “a wiener dog, Trevor.” Despite the dachshund’s valiant attempts to get Pig to play together, all that happens is that “Pig flipped his wig” – he goes into a hysterically funny tantrum, with eyes popping out of his head (and eyeballs contracting to pinheads), as he tosses his toys all over: “I know what your game is,/ you want me to SHARE!/ But I’ll never do that!/ I WON’T and I SWEAR.” Clearly Pig is heading for a fall – which is just what he gets. To keep Trevor from sharing anything, Pig piles all his toys up and stands triumphantly on top of them, not realizing that the toy pile is in front of an open window. Uh-oh. The next two-page illustration shows the outside of a building with a certain pug heading directly down (his head and therefore his expression not visible, but certainly imaginable); the only words are, “Well, pugs cannot fly.” Serves him right? But Pig is adorable despite being a grump, grouch and Grinch, and of course Blabey cannot leave him down on the ground below the window. So the scene switches to one of Trevor playing happily, because “Pig shares his toys now,/ and Trevor’s his friend.” Why the turnaround, with Trevor happily resting atop Pig’s still-grumpy-looking head? The last page shows that “Pig’s on the mend” in a full body cast – looking delightfully bewildered as Trevor smiles happily at him. Pig the Pug will not work for a child who finds it scary to imagine a dog, even a piggish one, falling and being injured, or one who fails to respond to the oddities and exaggerations of the story and the drawings. But a child who finds strange and unusual approaches to everyday children’s-book themes about friendship and sharing amusing will laugh out loud, repeatedly, at this piggish (and Trevor-ish) adventure.

     Over on the adult side of things, coloring books, originally for children, are all the rage these days, intended to help grown-ups relax, connect with their inner artist, enjoy nature and animals, and find peace and contentment. Except, that is, for Robert Pizzo’s Industrial Strength Coloring Book. Pizzo is a first-rate artist and designer of works for both adults and kids – for the latter, his 2013 The Amazing Animal Alphabet of Twenty-Six Tongue Twisters remains a one-of-a-kind foray into the intricacies of language. His new coloring book is one of a kind, too. Yes, it has the expected design elements: intricate black-and-white drawings on pages perforated for easy removal before or after they have been given a suitably splendid rainbow of hues. But the topics of the to-be-colored pages are quite unlike those in other coloring books for adults. One page shows two figures, apparently factory workers, standing at a table above which are 21 compartments containing different types of fasteners. One features an intricate array of plumbing elements – unconnected pipes and various possible ways to connect them. One is a highly stylized conveyor-belt-and-forklift scene, featuring boxes moving neatly in the direction of the arrows shown prominently on their tops. One shows a busy airport baggage-claim area, with luggage flowing out to waiting people, baggage handlers with carts, signs to various forms of ground transportation, a security guard giving directions – it is a sort of color-your-own-airport-milieu scene. Another page shows some log-carrying trucks being loaded and others driving off. Still another features two package-delivery trucks, facing in opposite directions, plus drivers and unloaders and the people to whom the packages are being brought. There is a farm page, and a page showing an architect’s drawing tools, and a page of various types of light bulbs, and several pages with manhole covers in the center (some blank, one saying “Stormdrain,” another saying “N.Y.C.” and yet another saying “Electric Co.”) and various designs around the edges. Do not look for re-connection with a quieter, simpler world or with nature in Robert Pizzo’s Industrial Strength Coloring Book. Look instead for an affirmation of the attraction, if not conventional beauty, of human endeavor – in factories, farms and cities, at sea and on railroad tracks, in a bottling plant and at an automotive assembly line. At a time when the hard-edged STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) are being increasingly emphasized in schools and the workplace, Pizzo here provides a rare chance to soften and warm up what is essentially a cold and seemingly heartless world. Clearly not for everyone, Robert Pizzo’s Industrial Strength Coloring Book is a great choice for someone looking to express artistry in unexpected ways and unexpected settings – which, come to think of it, neatly describes Pizzo himself.

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