December 30, 2021


Kaleidomorphia. By Kerby Rosanes. Plume. $14.

Coloring the Zodiac. By Christina Haberkern. Plume. $14.

How a King Plays: 64 Chess Tips from a Kid Champion. By Oliver Boydell. Random House. $9.99.

     Some books undebatably target their audiences with remarkable precision: you know the minute you look at them that they are perfect for you and you can’t wait to open them – or, alternatively, that you would never read them even if someone gave them to you as a gift and included a bonus inducement, such as a nice bookmark. Thus, Kaleidomorphia is a book for people who want to add color to Kerby Rosanes’ fanciful, complex renditions of animals, landscapes, animals that turn into landscapes, landscapes that turn into animals, and fantasy settings of all sorts. Not interested in coloring? This one is absolutely not for you – even though some of the pages are colored already, by some very talented artists (Nadia Mejiri, Lauren Farnsworth, Angeline Black, Élodie Petit, Laila Heldal, and others). This is a book for Rosanes’ fans, and more generally for fans of wondrous worlds that never existed but that can be brought vividly to life through the imagination of artists – and even more vividly when colorists add their talents to those of the original creator. It is easy to plunge immediately into the drawings here, which are taken from previous Rosanes books including Animorphia, Imagimorphia, Mythomorphia, Fantomorphia, Geomorphia, and Wondermorphia – get the pattern? However, if you are looking for some guidance on ways to color the highly detailed black-and-white pages – that is, some reasons to do them in specific colors rather than more or less at random – you can use the comments on the already-colored pages as a guide. In one place, there is a “bold yet restricted color scheme, based around magenta and bright-yellow tones.” Elsewhere, there are “complementary blues and pinks.” Then there is “dramatic contrast of light and dark tones.” And a “rich, night-sky background that enables the vibrant colors to pop.” And so on. Looking at the colored pages and reading what was done to give them their particular appearances may help guide you on your own journey into Rosanes’ intricately imagined, often very beautiful, generally mystical and sometimes downright peculiar worlds. But the key here is that this is a participatory book: it is not enough to page through it if you are seeking its full effect – you have to become part of it by bringing your own sense of color and style to the many intriguing, bizarre and beautiful portrayals of fantastic animals and strange scenes, from monumental giraffes whose horns are gigantic trees that support a complex ecology, to a grinning skull surrounded and bedecked by butterflies.

     A simpler book with the same basic targeting – that is, for colorists only – is Christina Haberkern’s Coloring the Zodiac. The title says it all, or at least most of it: the book marches through the 12 signs of the Zodiac, offering a chance to color various drawings associated with each sign, sometimes including quotations (rather oddly chosen ones, however) in addition to pictorial matter. The Zodiac signs get the more-or-less expected art on some pages – a crab for Cancer, twins facing opposite ways for Gemini, and so on – and also get some “I” pages that are a bit harder to figure out. For Aries (the ram) the words are “I am,” while for Taurus (the bull) they are “I have,” for Leo (the lion) they are “I will,” and for Scorpio (the scorpion) they are “I desire.” The connection of these words with the specific signs is less than apparent. The value of some of the chosen quotations is arguable, too. Not all the signs get them, so clearly Haberkern selects only comments (and commenters) she considers especially worthy. Um, well….she quotes Britney Spears for Sagittarius: “I don’t like defining myself. I just am.” And for Taurus, she quotes rapper Lizzo (Melissa Jefferson) offering the run-on, semi-literate sentence, “You know you a star, you can touch the sky.” It is logical to assume that Coloring the Zodiac is thus aimed at people who deem comments such as Lizzo’s and Spears’ to be profound – and that very definitely limits the target audience for the book. Actually, the age range for which the book is intended is difficult to pin down on the basis of the quotations: for Capricorn, Haberkern quotes Betty White’s remark, “You’re never too old for anything.” The words are given in outline form, so they are among the book’s elements available for coloring. But it is fair to say the main attraction here is not the verbiage. The symbols for the various signs are the most-complex drawings in the book, although none approximates the detail of Kerby Rosanes’ work. Still, the bow-and-arrow for Sagittarius, the goat with mermaid’s tail for Capricorn, and the highly decorated scales for Libra are all attractive, and all offer enjoyable coloring opportunities. But it is hard to escape the oddity of a book that seems to think it profound, for Aquarius, to quote, um, Paris Hilton (“Life is too short to blend in”). This is certainly a book that will be instantly attractive to some people and equally instantly unattractive to others.

     The visceral attraction of Kaleidomorphia and Coloring the Zodiac is primarily an emotional one. The attraction of How a King Plays is, on the other hand, strictly intellectual. This is a book about chess by a chess master – a young chess master, Oliver Boydell, born as recently as 2009. But make no mistake: the word to emphasize when reading this book is master rather than young. The book may be intended for youthful chess devotees (it is officially recommended for ages 10 and above), but its clear, plainspoken, experience-based chess tips are suitable for players of all ages. You are never too old (and rarely too young) to learn more about chess, and the age of the person teaching you is flat-out irrelevant. Chess itself, on the other hand, is not irrelevant: if you do not play it, and play it with a certain level of focus, intensity and concentration, this book is not for you. In fact, you might not even understand it if you did decide to try to read it. Among the 64 tips offered by Boydell, for example, is to “keep your fianchettoed Bishop,” and if that means nothing to you, you are not in this book’s audience. Boydell also says you should “play for active Rooks. Winning game plans seldom require passive Rooks.” And: “You have a Pawn majority when you have more Pawns on consecutive files than your opponent does.” And so on. You need to know the verbiage as well as the basics of chess to have any interest at all in How a King Plays. And that means, incidentally, knowing that Boydell’s chess ranking does not show him to be an ultra-exceptional player or destined for greatness: quite a few even-younger players are ranked higher. However, he may have something going for him as an author: this is his second book, following He’s Got Moves. The point, though, is that if chess interests you deeply, if you play it every chance you get and are always looking for ways to improve and for advice from a very advanced (if not absolute top-of-the-heap) player, then you are in the target audience for How a King Plays. If chess does not captivate you, nothing in this book will – certainly not the matter-of-fact jargon that Boydell employs throughout and expects all his readers to understand at a glance. If this book is for you, you know it immediately. If not, you know that just as well, and just as quickly.

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