Chaos is the mother of invention

29th March 1996 at 00:00
What Next? Mind-boggling machines and amazing mazes, By Edmond Davis, Hamlyn Pounds 8.99. Maths Curse, By Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, Viking Pounds 12.99. The Watertower, By Gary Crew, Illustrated by Steven Wolman, KeystoneRagged Bears Pounds 9.99. Re-Zoom, By Istvan Banyai, Viking Pounds 9.99

The beauty of Martin Handford's Where's Wally? books is in the definition. You know that every detail has been taken care of, that nerdish Wally will be in there, somewhere, without fail. What Next? is a Wally-type work experience picture book, involving Heath Robinson apparatus.

There's many a slip between the starting point of each complex recycling plant, knitting joint, cake factory and the emergence of the end product. Wackiness accounts for most of the interruptions, and the perspectival obscurities that impose confusion. Edmond Davis sets tasks and introduces multiple dead ends in order to make the going tortuous.

That's the whole object, of course: delaying tactics, borrowed from computer games, fascinate eight-year-olds (mainly boys) who love nothing more than futile intricacies. Where Wally takes cover in a world so complex one cannot but be fascinated, the merry punters of What Next? have only to persevere.

The jollity of Maths Curse is relentless. This is maths made into a nightmare of problems that nevertheless prove to be FUN.

Lots of graphic and typographical insistence technique is employed to make addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and binary theory engaging, using, for motivation, a child's obsession with turning all she encounters during the day into riddlesome sums. The moral is: don't panic. But the semi-house-trained graffiti illustrations will do little to calm the fearful innumerate.

Keen to offer some sort of competition to search-and-enjoy facilities on CD-Rom, book designers are resorting, increasingly, to screen-style formats. Steven Wolman illustrates Gary Crew's The Watertower. as though submitting a storyboard for electronic publication. Unfortunately the graphic nips and tucks and zooms merely make a portentous account of two outback boys tasting fear in an abandoned watertower that bit more pretentious.

The ingenuity of Istvan Banyai's Re-Zoom is sufficient to make even Wally (or Martin Handford) blink. We start with what appears to be an overhead shot from a British Airways ad: red crowds on a blue ground. Pulling back, on the next page, we see that the red is a paleolithic warrior taking aim. Overleaf, he's the figure on the face of a Swatch-type watch on a hairy wrist that, subsequently, is revealed tracing Egyptian hieroglyphs.

As the zoom-out continues, continents are traversed; centuries and cultures pass in rapid succession and our sense of scale is challenged and exploited.

No words: just high-definition images and a cop-out ending, with a further sequel to the original Zoom, happily, signalled.

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