September 09, 2021


The Smell of a Rainbow. By Dawn Goldworm. Illustrated by Andres Landazabal. Dial. $11.99.

rAinbowZ. By Michael Arndt. Andrews McMeel. $8.99.

     Synesthesia, the mixing of senses, is not something that can be taught: some people have it and some do not. For those who do, sense blends could mean, for example, that the color green sounds tinkly and tastes acidic. Dawn Goldworm’s The Smell of a Rainbow does not exactly try to induce or reproduce synesthesia in very young children, but this fascinating board book does give kids (and adults) a chance to associate most of the colors of the rainbow with specific scents. This is done very cleverly. Each left-hand page suggests how a specific color smells – and when the page is rubbed, a whiff of the suggested odor can actually be perceived. Each right-hand page then says how each color feels, and some of those suggestions are a bit on the “well, maybe” side of things – but even if parents and/or kids do not quite agree with Goldworm’s notions, the ideas become great talking points and, put simply, are a lot of fun. Andres Landazabal’s outgoing, gently amusing pictures are another big plus of this charming little book. So Goldworm writes that red, for example, smells “sugary, berrylicious, spicy,” and Landazabal supplies pictures of smiling and dancing hot peppers, among other things; Goldworm says red feels “ticklish, lovable,” and Landazabal shows two kids laughing beneath a huge smiling Valentine’s-Day-style heart. Orange, “juicy, sweet, fresh,” features a couple of oranges (the fruit) with bright smiles; and here Goldworm suggests that orange feels “friendly, brave” – which works well with Landazabal’s picture of two kids hang-gliding above mountaintops as a smiling sun watches, but which may or may not reflect the feelings of the book’s readers. No matter: each color gets a delightful words-scent-pictures combination that makes the book a joy to visit and revisit. Some of the built-in smells work better than others: orange, for example, is not nearly as distinct as yellow (which is definitely lemony). But the book’s concept is so good and its mixture of senses so endearing that it works well even if readers do not see (and smell) things exactly as Goldworm does. There are only six of the rainbow’s seven colors here –indigo and violet are combined into purple, which makes sense for children in the target age range of 2-5 – but the final statement that kids have now “smelled a whole rainbow” feels accurate even if it is not quite precise. Through its overall charm and its unusual mixture of senses, The Smell of a Rainbow is a real delight.

     Michael Arndt’s rAinbowZ is a “combination” book as well, the title showing just what is combined: the letters A and Z are larger than the others and, on the cover, differently colored (silver, with the other letters in white). In other words, this is a color-plus-letters book, and a very clever one it is, too. All seven colors of the rainbow make repeated appearances here, but Arndt does not try to present them in the order in which they actually show up in rainbows (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). Instead, he mixes and matches colors in all sorts of attractive ways while marching board-book readers through the alphabet. “Xylophone,” for example, has seven wooden bars, but none of them is orange – the entire background of the page is. “Hair” is shown on a clown face, with the facial features as well as the hair in multiple bright colors. “Nails” are the five fingernails on one hand, each a tricolor design – and the designs, collectively, do in this case include all seven rainbow colors. “Gelato” (an interesting word choice for the letter G) features pastels rather than the bright colors used for most words here; the illustration shows seven scoops of the treat stacked in an ice-cream cone. “Wand” uses muted colors, too, with the dominant one being silver, even though that is not a rainbow color. “Jelly beans,” in contrast, are on a page bursting with brightness in, well, all the colors of the rainbow. Somewhat similarly, the page for “Sprinkles” (another interesting word choice) shows many of them in many colors, being sprinkled onto the white icing of a cupcake. rAinbowZ is a learning tool, and a particularly intriguing one because Arndt picks quite a few atypical-for-this-age-group words (Aura, Mohawk, Oz, Piñata, and Tie-dye are all here). The book is also beautiful to look at, with the illustrations so engaging that kids may not even notice how well they are learning the alphabet as they return to rAinbowZ again and again to marvel at the colors and designs.

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