Friday, January 23, 2009

Zoom by Istvan Banyai

Reviewed by Steven Wolk

Sometimes life is all about perspective. What we see, what we think, what we feel, depends on how we see, on our unique viewpoint. While this may seem like common knowledge, I’d say the opposite is true. Most people, by far, have no clue how much their unique perspective influences their daily lives and the decisions we make. And far too often people assume how they see and what they see is exactly how and what others see. Philosophically, this extends far beyond just seeing and feeling; our perspectives create our everyday “truths,” our realities. If one hundred people go to a birthday party, do they experience the same party? They may eat the same cake and sing the same song, but could they be experiencing one hundred different versions of the same birthday party? If each of us creates different meaning from a book or a painting, then don’t we do the same when we shop for groceries or watch a ballgame or attend a birthday party?

Zoom is a picture book without a single word or even a narrative. There is no story; just pictures. Open the first page and you see a drawing of some red triangular shapes over a white background flecked with blue. What is this? Turn the page and you find out. The image has backed up and you see the red triangles were actually part of a rooster’s comb. Flip the page again and the next image has backed us up further. Now we see two young kids looking through a window at the rooster. Flip more pages and soon we see we’re on a farm. No big deal. We see pictures of farms all the time. But turn a few more pages and suddenly we’re not on a farm at all. It’s a model of a farm, a toy farm. Flip again and now we see it’s not a toy farm at all, but actually a picture of a toy farm being held in someone’s hand. And so it goes. As we flip through the pages our perspective changes, our truth changes. When we see a farm we have one reality; when we see a picture of a farm it’s an entirely different reality.

Where this finally ends up I’ll leave for you to find out on your own. This is brilliant stuff. And you can find similar work in the sequel, Re-zoom. While neither book tells a story, they have provocative ideas for the reader to think about. Look these books up on Amazon and the editorial reviews target them for up to third and fifth grade. That’s ridiculous; these are marvelous and provocative books for adults, let alone young adults.

I love picture books. Contrary to popular assumptions, they are not just for little kids. I recommend picture books to middle and high school teachers to use with their students. Within the genre of picture books is a kind of tiny sub-genre of wordless picture books. So, since I’m writing about a few dazzling wordless picture books that are great for older readers, here are five more books with not a single word that will shake up your mind and bring some wonder to your eyes:

Flotsam by David Wiesner

Home by Jeanne Baker

The Flower Man by Mark Ludy

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Why? by Nikolai Popov


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1 comment:

A Paperback Writer said...

Well, this sounds quite interesting. I'll have to find a copy.