Sunday, October 14, 2007

review: Gizmo

Gizmo by Barry Varela. Illustrated by Ed Briant. Roaring Brook, 2007 (978-1-59643-115-7)$16.95

A text that evokes Dr. Seuss on speed and steroids and frantically busy illustrations collide joyfully for this offbeat book. Professor Ludwig von Glink wakes up one fine spring morning convinced "that a particular arrangement of pulleys, pendulums, sprockets, and gears suspended/by a network of wires would produce movement that never ended." It doesn't quite work out that way, but his failed perpetual-motion machine is so entertaining that the professor decides to expand on it, with "ramps, slides, buttons, lenses, switches, notches and nodes, nubins and niches," to the delight of his family and the folks who "came from far and near/to wonder and marvel and listen and point and gasp and laugh and cheer." When the extravagent gizmo that was once the von Glink's home comes to the attention of the City Buildings and Permits Inspector, it seems doomed, but the Director of the City Contemporary Art Museum saves the day, demanding the house be "declared a landmark, a treasure, a historic site-- anything to save it from the dynamite." And so, "after a close shave, the Professor's Gizmo was saved. Although any practical purpose it may have served remained opaque: It was a case of art for art's sake."

It's hard to give a true sense of the textual style of Gizmo without quoting the entire thing, because it's such a mad mix of constantly varying rhythms and rhyme schemes, with some rhymes coming fast, others taking what seems like forever to complete themselves; paradoxically, it flows wonderfully and is surprisingly easy to read aloud. The erratic movements of the text are complimented by bustling, jagged-edged line drawings that fill each page with active people, big machines, and the fascinating gizmo, with its springs and sprockets and endless moving parts. Boldly proclaiming the value of whimsy, creative experimentation and things that exist "simply to amuse," Gizmo easily justifies it own existance. (4 & up)

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review: Dear Deer

Dear Deer written and illustrated by Gene Barretta. Henry Holt, 2007 (978-0-8050-8104-6) $16.95

Framed as a letter from "Aunt Ant" to her "Dear Deer," this book demonstrates homophones with short vignettes of the latest zoo news, starting with the MOOSE who loves MOUSSE (He ATE EIGHT bowls) and ending, "There is no NEWS about the GNUS. They keep to themselves." Looking at the cantankerous faces of those gnus, you believe it.

Except for few slang terms that may not be familiar--"The DOE KNEADED the DOUGH, because she NEEDED the dough"--most of the wordplay is pretty self-explanatory, so beginning readers can probably enjoy this on their own. Adults are less likely than kids to find the text funny, but the comic, brightly colored pictures, which include a glasses-wearing moose cozily lounging with a bowl on his stomach, an elephant throwing a pail full of frantic mice and the aforementioned highly ticked-off gnus, have a broader appeal. (5 & up)

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Robert's Snow Schedule

Postings for "Robert's Snow" are beginning! For anyone who's been living under a rock recently, not unlike myself, this is a kidlitosphere-wide project to promote the "Robert's Snow" illustrated snowflake auctions, which benefit cancer research. Many of us have personal reasons for our involvement in this project; I nearly lost my oldest friend to Leukemia, so I am very happy to be able to play a small part. "My" illustrator will be featured here on November 6th.

This week's schedule for snowflake postings can be found over at the Cybil's blog. This is an opportunity to get acquainted the work of some children's book illustrators you may not have encountered before, as well as some that everyone's heard of--and if you're inspired to place a bid, all the better.

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