My basically self-inflicted finger injury (dear God, that sounded so stupid I feel ridiculous) is healing well, and I’m able once more to scatter my pearls of insight across WordPress. No, really, you don’t have to thank me. It’s my gift to the world.
OK, you all remember the hint I gave you in my apology for taking a day off due to an injured finger (seriously, doesn’t sound any less stupid the second time around), so this will be no surprise. Maybe you all clicked the link and found yourselves staring at such a lovely book you spontaneously bought it. You brought it home and loved it so much that your lives are enriched to such an extent that you’ve devoted your lives to the study of geometric forms and what combinations produce the finest robins. Ultimately, you’ll discover that Lucie Félix (her site is awesome, so visit it!) already came up with it in Apples and Robins (originally Après l’été), which brings us right back to where we started: our book for today, which is an astoundingly simple and elegant exploration of geometry, life, and natural beauty. It’s like if Wagner’s Ring Cycle were more, well, um, not to put too fine a point on it, but… enjoyable? (Sorry, music-lovers, including my dad. I greatly admire the Ring, but you’ve got to admit that it’s not all apples and robins.)
But what do I mean, and why, precisely, do I risk alienating all the Wagner fans out there? Bear with me a moment and we’ll see if I can redeem myself at all.
First of all, let’s talk about how, once again, Chronicle Books has found a remarkable French book to bring to American eyes. Keep doing this, Chronicle Books, and I will keep buying them. They are so pretty. They are so clever. They are so smart.
Smart and clever are perhaps the first words to come to mind right after the “oooooh, pretty” infatuation abated. (That’s a technical term right there.) I snapped this book up in all of five seconds after I spotted the illustrations and flipped the first two or three pages. It just spoke to me. But I admit that I wasn’t sure it would speak to the Changeling, so it settled on a shelf for a little while, only read by me. Then, this past weekend, I realized something which should have occurred to me before, but didn’t because I am apparently as dense as bad soda bread:
IT HAS BIRDS IN IT.
“But, wait a second,” you ask. “Why in the world weren’t you sure that your book-loving toddler wouldn’t go for this book?” An excellent question. First of all, I’m dense. Second, this really is a very, very clever book. It’s engineered in a visually stunning way: geometric shapes on the page, when the page is turned, become apples, or a ladder, or a flash of lightning. Here, let me show you:
That should give you a basic impression of the book, but the Chronicle Books trailer can really show it off:
You see how it works? Shapes which just seem abstract and geometric become, when the page is turned, a whole new world of storms and apples and birds. As I said, it’s smart: it’s one of the smartest books I’ve seen this year, and, being rather dense, I thought it was too smart for my daughter.
Yeah, right. Too smart for me, maybe, but not for her. She loves watching the transformations, and, I think, even loves the story which quietly underlies the transformations.
You have apples. And then you have a ladder. Next, you add the robins and a birdhouse. Then comes the storm which disrupts the natural order. Slowly, though, it is rebuilt. Apples are gathered and the birdhouse is restored– and then the birds make it their home until spring comes and you have more birds, apple blossoms, and the prospect of the whole cycle beginning again. (See? Just like Wagner, but happier, and, well, less dreary.)
Why shouldn’t that be a story which my daughter can understand? Because, perhaps, she’s too young to remember from season to season? She remembers winter. She remembers people. She remembers almost every word of Green Eggs and Ham, and recites it daily. So, why assume she can’t remember the season? Perhaps I was assuming that she’d be bored because there wasn’t a more vivid story? Well, if I was mesmerized by the changing shapes and colours, why wouldn’t she be? Perhaps I thought that she couldn’t draw comparisons with Wagner? Happily, being not-yet-three, no, she can’t. But I think you can enjoy this book without being familiar with Wagner. (Now there’s a pull quote for you!)
Honestly, I’m not sure why I thought this book was so much too old for the Changeling. She’s a clever almost-three-year-old, and this book is recommended for ages 4-6, her usual range in books. It’s true that she can’t track the geometric changes as the pages turn, but she does find them mesmerizing to watch, just as I do. It’s true that she’s too young to really grasp the cyclical nature of the world and nature, but she’s also too young to know about theories of the fantastic but she still enjoys The Tea Party in the Woods.
The fact remains that I think there is one simple, poetic story in this book which can be apprehended in as many different ways as you can draw apples and robins: it’s the story of the turning year, and turning pages, and turning leaves. It’s as beautiful as taking simple boxes and ending up with a slender ladder to get you up into greenest trees. It’s also as fun as watching a bird pop out of a hole. It’s a story which grows with you.
Dammit, I’m not sure how to do this book justice except to link to it again here and say this: I’m labelling this book for all ages. I think the colours will engage an infant (just keep it away from grabby fingers or the holes will tear), but the shapes and story will engage a toddler, and the older you get the more you’ll see.
Also? This is another one I really want to see in the original French, just to compare.
Guys, this is beautiful, and, sneak peek: this is going on my spotlight list for Monday’s monthly blog summary, you bet it is.