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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