What you see ... isn't always what you get
IMAGINE. By Norman Messenger. Walker Books. pound;12.99
OPPOSITES. By Robert Crowther. Walker Books. pound;9.99
PABLO THE ARTIST. By Satoshi Kitamura. Andersen Press. pound;10.99
Ted Dewan finds books that will inspire a closer look
Apart from I Spy and Spot the Difference, there are very few everyday childhood games that encourage looking closely. Training the youthful eye to see rather than just to look is a subtle art, one not necessarily accomplished by dragging them to art galleries. Here are four titles for wiring up eyes and brains.
Eye Magic:A World of Optical Puzzles is an excellent update on a good old-fashioned collection of eye tricks, illusions and curiosities, with much to offer older primary pupils. It's an elegantly designed historical survey from the discovery of perspective through hand-shadows, zoetropes, optical illusions, pointillism, Escher, three-dimensional images and op art. In a slender drawer at the back of the book there's a mirror, a viewer and other devices. The book even opens up to reveal a working pop-up zoetrope.
Imagine covers similar ground, with fewer special effects. It is more robust and will appeal throughout the primary school. Older children will enjoy Messenger's surreal and fastidious illustrations, which draw heavily on the style of Victorian ephemera. But Imagine is far from just another rewarming of Victorian eye games; some of the tricks may be familiar - topsy-turvy heads (pictured left), impossible landscapes, open-flap surprises, extendable zigzag spreads ... la Mad magazine - but they're thoughtfully reinvented. As Imagine is all the work of one illustrator, the book casts a sort of spell that Eye Magic doesn't.
Robert Crowther manages to squeeze an unfeasible amount of genius into the simplest of pop-up devices in Opposites. Sooner or later, he's got to run out of new ideas, for he keeps using them up at an alarming rate in each new concept book; he's recently done alphabet, number and shape books. This collection (lightdark, emptyfull and so on) will delight young children, and the wit of the pop-ups - my favourite is the glass of juice that empties at the pull of a tab (pictured right) - will continue to be appreciated up to about eight years old. Crowther's minimal modern graphic style graces the pop-ups and tab-pulls, but the concepts themselves are the finest part of his work.
Finally, authorillustrator Satoshi Kitamura offers another highly original arty tale in Pablo the Artist. The story features a studio populated by animal artists. The all-animal art club helps an elephant colleague overcome his "artist's block" by sending him out to do a landscape. While having a nap, a series of animals rework the elephant's unfinished landscape, improving the bits of the painting that particularly interest them. There's even a benign wolf, who contributes to the "jam" by moving the story towards a satisfying and sophisticated surprise ending.
Most of Kitamura's picture books are held aloft by a well-considered philosophical underpinning. This curious story is, at its core, a light-hearted muse on deconstructivism and the role of the subconscious on artistic decision-making.
Ted Dewan is creator of the picture book characters Bing Bunny and Crispin the Pig