Fuse #8

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Review of the Day: Blue 2 by David A. Carter

Blue 2
By David A. Carter
Little Simon (an imprint of Simon & Schuster)
ISBN: 9781416917816
For ages 5 and up
On shelves now

Give a man one red dot and it’ll start to give him ideas. When I reviewed David A. Carter’s One Red Dot back in 2005, I thought it to be one of the cleverest little exercises in contemporary design I’d ever had the privilege to enjoy. Under normal circumstances, good design in children’s books feels like an ungodly mix of adult dollars and misbegotten enterprise. Carter is different. One Red Dot was fun for both kids and their parents AND was seriously attractive to the old eyeballs. But though I am a children’s librarian I do not track the career of David A. Carter, and so it was with the greatest of shock that I received a package from Simon & Schuster containing an unexpected sequel, Blue 2. Blue 2 features a sparkly cover with the words of the title made up entirely of iridescent dots. It also features alphabetic phrases of a peculiar nature, a scavenger hunt for an elusive number, and more skips and tricks than most of the beautiful pop-up books you’ll find on the market today.

Open the book before you. On the first page, forgoing publication information or even an introduction of some sort, the first thing you see are two yellow pages and a small forest of trees that have sprung up to greet you. The first words of the title, “Abundant Blossoms Collide” indicate that as you go through the pages of Blue 2 you will find an alphabetic guide to help you along. Now the reader must search closely within the blossoms to find the blue 2 hidden (remarkably well) amongst the foliage. Once you’ve done that you can move on and find a far easier “glistening Blue 2”. And so it goes. Before your eyes Carter conjures up hypnotic swirls and the first practical use of spandex I’ve ever seen in a children's title. There are hidden mirrors in a carnivalian atmosphere, a hanging mobile, pyramids, see-saws, whirling-twirling optical illusions (that don’t quite match up), and tricks like you’ve never seen before. This isn’t your usual lift-the-flap trifle, kiddies. This is a mind-blowing production for an audience of one.

Carter hasn’t just tricked out his newest book and given it an alphabetic modus operandi. He’s also made the basic search nearly impossible. First of all, the very first hidden 2 you’ll find is so cleverly concealed within the “Abundant Blossoms” that I doubt very much that the first person to read this book will always necessarily catch it. Once someone does, it’ll be easier for future readers (and I really can’t say any more without giving something away). The second most difficult puzzle appears on a page that reads, “Seesaw Ticktocks Upside down and an inverted Blue 2.” My husband and I, both grown adults with Masters degrees and the requisite amount of brain cells sat on our futon for a good fifteen minutes and became convinced that I’d been given a defective copy of the book. Fifteen. Minutes. I will never get that time back. Eventually I was able to locate the 2 (it’s there fair and square) but I felt remarkably small in achieving this. On the other hand, I know perfectly well that the right kind of enterprising child may well look in places that a stodgy old adult like myself won’t.

It’s a pity then that the abecedarian technique doesn’t work any better than it does. No one will quibble with the fact that the words do sometimes describe what’s on the page well enough. Yet phrases like “Mobile Nonsense Oscillating” or “Jubilant Kookiness Laughing” are usually followed by a sentence like, “and a suspended Blue 2”, and don’t fit together as a whole. Listen to the following as it’s put together: “Gleeful Helixes Illuminate and a slippery Blue 2.” Doesn’t really work, does it? I like the idea of throwing words into the text, but I’m not convinced that the book wouldn’t have done better just to include brief non-alphabetic, coherent sentences. Ah well.

Because I am a children’s librarian, I’ve seen firsthand the effects that little hands have had on Mr. Carter’s past work. Keep One Red Dot on your circulating shelves and watch as the flexible binding tears under a toddler's concentrated efforts. Marvel as all those adorable little circles on string suddenly start lolling lazily out of the pages of the book. Cry as your once beautiful little title rips at the seams, falls apart at the glue, and generally proves itself to be a beautiful object not long for this world. With Blue 2 I foresee a similar fate. Of course, One Red Dot had a fold-out section that fell out after 2 or 3 openings of the book. “Blue 2” seems sturdier than this. I've played with the book several times and the worst I can say is that the first puzzle in the book may lead to kids tearing some of the pictures apart in misguided zest.

It is as if Mr. Carter were saying to the world, “You liked that? Try THIS!” Kids who love I Spy books, Where’s Waldo and any other title that requires a single-minded intensity of searching will adore this book. I could give you some high faluting dissertation on modern art and picture books or I could discuss the short lifespan of your average pop-up. I’m not going to. Blue 2 is mesmerizing, enchanting, and a worthy successor to the ever fabulous One Red Dot. Certainly the words could have stood a bit of tweaking, but the mischievousness of the design itself will win anyone over. This is a book that was born with a twinkle in its eye. It may frustrate you beyond all measure, but in the end you’ll come back to it time and time again.

On shelves now.

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