November 29, 2007


How Many? Spectacular Paper Sculptures. By Ron van der Meer. Robin Corey Books. $24.99.

The Time Traveler’s Journal. By Ed Masessa. Illustrated by Daniel Jankowski and Lawrence Eddie Myers. Designed by Bill Henderson and Deena Fleming. Tangerine Press/Scholastic. $24.99.

      In this gift-oriented season, some books simply shout, “What a great present!” Some of them, like these two, are right. How Many? is one of those books that you have to see to believe – but you won’t be able to see it before buying it unless your local bookstore has a copy on display, since it comes sealed in a plastic wrapper. Request a display copy if one isn’t already available, and you’ll immediately see why the extra protection is needed: Ron van der Meer’s pop-up paper sculptures just beg to be touched, marveled at and closely examined – How did he do that? And that? And the other thing? Van der Meer has created wonderful paper figures before, in such books as The Art Pack and Monster Island, but here he has outdone himself with a series of nested and spread-out shapes that burst from the book like fireworks (they’re brightly colored enough for fireworks, too). The connective tissue for this book, although scarcely its reason for being, is counting. The idea is to count the many shapes in various ways: the total number in one construction, including those nested together; the number of a particular size or color; how many, combined, make new shapes; and so on. This is a wonderful 3D puzzle and a marvelous family activity that can occupy many a cold night or weekend. Certainly there are no age boundaries to the sense of wonder inspired by these circles, stars, triangles and more. This is a book of things to count, true, but it is also one you can count on to make your imagination soar and your sense of wonder blossom.

      The Time Traveler’s Journal is mundane by comparison, but only by comparison. Created by essentially the same team that produced the equally attractive The WandMaker’s Guidebook, this work has much the same structure: it appears to be large and thick, but in reality contains only 24 pages of text – almost none of it traditional text. There is a touch of narrative here and there, notably at the start, in the form of a letter to readers from “Lieserl – the missing Einstein.” But as you delve into The Time Traveler’s Journal, you get real and made-up photos, fold-ups and fold-outs, small envelopes into which cards and other items are tucked, alleged newspaper headlines, and much more. It’s a multimedia feast, capped by the thing that makes the book seem thick: cardboard packaging surrounding and protecting a working pocket watch called “Rewinder” that actually runs in reverse. While enjoying the watch (whose hands really do move counter-clockwise, and whose numbers are arranged backwards), you can read “facts” about the Titanic and the iceberg, the creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the reason a 21st-century coin supposedly showed up in Thailand in 1983 (in a 12th-century burial site), the flaws in all supposedly scientific theories of time travel, and more. What you will not learn, of course, is how to travel in time yourself. “Lieserl” professes to have been just about everywhere (or everywhen) and to have done just about everything, but there are some secrets she simply will not share. Why, it’s almost as if time travel itself is impossible! But Lieserl asserts otherwise, and in reality, this book will let you experience time travel. Unfortunately, we travel through time in only one direction – toward the future, which inevitably becomes the present and then the past. But as long as you’re traveling that way, The Time Traveler’s Journal can help make the trip more pleasant and interesting – at least for a time.

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