Fuse #8

Monday, June 05, 2006

Review of the Day: The Everything Seed

If you were to walk up to me as I sat at my Children’s Reference Desk in my library and ask me to come up with as many picture books written by Unitarians that I could think of, you’d have me stumped. And if you were to walk up to me and ask me to come up with as many spiritual Big Bang picture books as I could think of, you’d have me stumped. In general, I’m pretty easy to stump. Now I’ve at least one book to consider should either question come flying at my Reference Desk from parts unknown. We have, before us, The Everything Seed. Coming via the publisher Tricycle Press, the book is a kind of experiment in combining a worthy subject alongside beautiful art, then failing to package the title in a pleasing manner. Do not, under any circumstances, get me wrong here. This is a book that definitely fills a need. Just the same, it would have been nice if the publisher could have granted this title the care and attention it so richly deserved.

You’ve all seen seeds right? You’re aware of how a little tiny speck of a thing can be planted and grow and turn into something entirely different? Well let me tell you a story about a similar kind of seed. You see, in the beginning there was a whole lot of darkness and a single ... well, let’s call it an Everything Seed. Everything that would ever appear in the entire world was contained in that seed until one day it unfolded. Then the universe was created, planets formed, life began, and every thing or creature, “that is now, ever was, or ever will be was inside that first tiny seed”. With full multi-colored batiks by illustrator Joy Troyer (who represents that seed-in-everything as a kind of peppermint-like swirl of red and white) we see the entire universe unfold in a series of full-color prints of surprising depth and range.

The School Library Journal review of this book lamented that, “The text is very earnest, but, in the end, dull”. First time children’s book author Carole Martignacco explains in her Author’s Note that she is a poet. When she couldn’t find a picture book that was, “true to the emerging understanding of physics that would use the language of poetry”, she decided to write a book herself. Not that this book is written in verse, mind you. Instead she hoped to write something that wasn’t all cold-hard scientific facts without a trace of meaning behind them. At the same time she had to balance it out so that this wasn’t a book that pounded a single religious theme in with the story of how the universe began. Tricky stuff. For the most part she’s done a good job, neither going too far one way or another. Now the book does not speak in a vernacular that immediately will appeal to children. Martignacco may be a fabulous poet but she still needs to hone her voice to the entling set. So while I would disagree that the book is “dull”, it could have stood a more casual feel towards young ‘uns.

Can we talk about the design elements here? For reasons I won’t even begin to imagine, Tricycle Press didn’t feel this book merited any special attention. First of all, the pages are glossy and cheap and the binding done in such a way that to turn to the title page already pulls dangerously at the poor little pages from their spine. The text is done in a generic typewritten font, then put on one page or another without the benefit of trying to be anything but paragraphs of text. Then there are the batik images and this is where it gets particularly sad. Artist Joy Troyer is a genius. A self-taught batik genius, no less. Her illustrations for this book are beautiful and lush and are worth poring over for hours on end. Unfortunately (this really gets my goat) the publisher apparently didn’t want to shell out the extra bucks required to reproduce the pictures here in focus! So breathtaking images of a firey orange/yellow/red blaze of the sun, which by all rights should leave you panting at their glory, instead leave you feeling as if your eyes have been watching television for several hours strain-wise. Bad, Tricycle Press! Bad! When I consider that some small publishers like Simply Read Books will pay extra money for the SMELL of the glue in their bindings and then I look at a book like this that didn’t even respect its author and illustrator enough to focus the freakin’ camera taking pictures of the batiks... well, as you can see, I get a teensy bit huffy.

Now obviously if you want a creation myth picture book, this is not going to be your first choice. “The Everything Seed” bears far more similarities to the evolution-centric, “Our Family Tree”, by Lisa Westberg Peters than the fabulous, “Big Momma Makes the World”, by Phyllis Root. This is not a creation myth. It is the story of the Big Bang (a term Martignacco doesn’t much care for) done in such a way as to tie it into scientific fact but done for little ones who don’t need scientific terms quite yet. Actually, the book is visually quite similar to Gerald McDermott’s, “Creation”. Both books utilize the swirly creation out of black nothingness in mighty similar yet individual ways. Should you wish to complement this book with a Christian creation story, the two would slip together beautifully. A rather nice book, but one shanghaied by a lazy publisher who apparently doesn’t care diddly over squat about presentation.


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