Fuse #8

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Review of the day: Zoom by Istan Banyai

By Istvan Banyai
Viking Juvenile (an imprint of Penguin)
ISBN: 978-0670858040
Ages 4-8
On shelves now

When I read Banyai's, The Other Side I had little intention of reviewing his other work as well. The fellow seems nice enough but he's a one trick pony in the end. Everything he draws ends up looking the same in the end. Also, since he's the kind of guy who gets more complex with each additional picture book, why go back and view his simple stuff? So I'm working in the Children's Department of my library one day when a full truckload of paperbacks come in, newly returned. And what should be sitting on the top of them all shiny and orangish/red? You got it. So I pluck little Zoom from the cart, take it home myself, and find I was right in the first place. Here's the review I wrote in its honor:

Though he's illustrated books for other authors before this, it was really with Zoom that artist Istvan Banyai first tried his hand at the wide world of children's picture books. Do a quick Google search of Banyai and you'll see that the man has dipped his toe in everything from book illustrations to pictures for Playboy. Now as a children's librarian I am always on the lookout for good wordless picture books. The wordlessier they are the better. My favorites up until now have been titles like The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, and the Bard by Gregory Rogers and Anno's Journey by Mr. Mitsumasa Anno himself. In light of his more recent efforts (The Other Side comes to mind) it's funny to see how simple his books were at the start. Zoom is not a particularly new idea for a book, but it is a fun concept and is sure to garner itself some solid fans throughout the years.

The very first thing you see, on opening the book, is a fleshy and pointed starfish-like creature, but with too many points. Turn the page and the next image is of that same pointy image, but we can see that it's actually the crest of a rooster's comb. Turn the page again and we back up even farther still. Now the rooster is seen perched on a fence while two captivated youngsters look on. You get the gist of the book. The thing is, Banayi keeps backing up, even when you think that there would be nowhere else to go. A farm scene suddenly becomes a toy farm set with a child playing with it. A city street becomes a television program. And a cruise ship resolves itself to be an ad on the side of a bus. As the book backs off farther and farther and farther, in the end the earth recedes until it is only a single white dot in the center of a very black page. Want your kids to grasp the concept of their own inherent insignificance in the face of a vast unyielding universe? Then Zoom's the book for you!

It took me a little while to realize it, but the book that bears the closest resemblance to Zoom is Barbara Lehman's Caldecott Honor winner, The Red Book. Of course, the advantage of The Red Book is that it actually had a plot of sorts. Zoom, for all its charms, is plotless. In some ways, the best wordless picture books are the ones that dare to tell some kind of a tale. Home by Jeannie Baker, for example, told the story of a girl's life from birth to adulthood and how the world changes around her. As Banyai becomes more comfortable with creating children's books he begins to understand their purpose. Therefore The Other Side has an ending that summarizes nicely whereas Zoom simply drifts off into space.

Which isn't to say that the book is poorly done. It ain't. Using his customary thin thin black pen lines and a palette of all sorts of colors, Banyai brings to life everything from the hypnotic eye of a rooster to New York's Flatiron Building. Unfortunately for me, the version of Zoom that I am reviewing is the paperback edition. This is a real shame as I've been delighted by Banyai's small touches and flourishes made to his books' covers and bookflaps. If it comes down to purchasing the hardcover edition of this story or the paperback, I highly urge you to consider the hardcover. Though I can't vouch for whether or not there are any fun details attached to it, why take the chance? Besides, when it comes to viewing Banyai's books with true appreciation, only hardcover will possibly do.

As with most high-concept picture book, Zoom isn't aiming to be universally beloved. It will instead be enjoyed primarily by those children of the correct mindset. Some kids will get a huge kick out of the perpetually shifting realities captured in this minute little booklet. Others will be weirded out by the concept and clutch their Dora the Explorer paperbacks a little tighter to their chests. I sincerely hope your child is in the former category. Zoom certainly deserves to be looked at and makes a fine addition to anyone's wordless picture book collection.

On shelves now.



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