Fuse #8

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Review of the Day: Museum Trip

I know that Book Buds just did this one, but it's worthy of multiple consideration, I think.

Let it never be said that picture book creators aren't stretching the very definition of what a "picture book" even is. Now Barbara Lehman strikes me as a uniquely gutsy woman. Here we have somebody who isn't afraid to create the occasional small masterpiece. Remember her Caldecott Honored, "The Red Book"? Or rather, the book within a book within a book? Well apparently the success of that little number gave her the wherewithal to go in a different direction with her follow-up, "Museum Trip". Recently on a children's literature listserv someone asked for children's books that could conceivably be said to use magical realism. If that person ever happens to want a little magical realism picture book action, have I got the author/illustrator for them!

A boy goes to the museum. Sounds fairly simple. But, you know, museums can be difficult places to navigate. And no sooner does our hero look down to tie his shoe than he is lost in a massive artsy space without his class. He pokes and prods about, finally stumbling across a small room without a doorknob. Inside, he finds a glass case containing six drawn mazes. He stares intently at the first one and before you know it the boy is within the labyrinth, navigating it from the inside. Each time the boy finishes one he races along to the next. Finally, by maze #6, he is able to reach a tower located at the center. Suddenly the viewer gets closer and closer to that tower's keyhole, through which we can see some unseen person awarding the boy a golden medal. The maze done, the boy is back in the room and he is able to quickly locate his class once more. As he leaves the museum, however, it's evident that he still has the medal affixed tightly to his neck. And even better, the curator of the museum watches the boy go while touching his own shiny medallion.

Now admittedly this wasn't quite as much fun as "The Red Book". But, to be fair, it's an entirely different beast. The fun of "The Red Book" was in the crazy bending of reality. "Museum Trip", does that too to some extent, but in a different manner. Some children may be perturbed by the loosey-goosey nature of the boy's unaccountable shrinkage. Others will go with it. The point of the book for me, in any case, was the mazes themselves. Though my little librarian heart shudders with the knowledge that countless library copies of this book will end up with significant crayon and pencil marks drawn in them as kids navigate the mazes, at least I can guarantee that the children will have a good time doing so.

For all her outward simplicity, Lehman isn't afraid to lay on the subtle references. When the boy enters the room of drawn mazes there is a small statue of a Minotaur seated on a pedestal. The book also has some fun details. If you look at the beginning of the book, you can see just the hint of the curator's medal hanging about his neck, beneath his jacket. Also, should you show this book to a maze-lovin' kid who yearns for at least one more, take off the cover of the book. On the hardcover edition of this title you will find one last rectangular labyrinth hidden and waiting.

So there we are. Wordless picture books like this one are generally useful for children who can't read yet or aren't familiar with a written language. Lehman's books bridge that gap and this one in particular may well find itself lumped in with countless "I Spy" and "Where's Waldo" titles. In short, it's the deepest game-related picture book I've ever found myself reading. Just keep it away from any six-year-old realists you happen to know.


At 1:01 PM , Blogger Bkbuds said...

Whoops, I didn't even know about the extra maze on the cover. Kewl. Yeah, I agree this one's worth multiple considerations. I hadn't read "The Red Book" so you add some important insight. Plus it generates that whole "buzz" thing that keeps publishers happy and sending out more free copies.


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