Monday, July 6, 2009

Review #35: Black and White

Lily (age 6):  I want to tell them what the book is.  This is "Black and White" by David Macaulay.
Dad:  Now, this is one of the weirdest books you'll ever see.
Isaac (age 10):  And one of the coolest.
Dad:  And out of all the books in our house, out of all the books I've ever read -- kid books, chapter books, grown-up books, fiction, non-fiction -- this is my very favorite book in the entire world.
Gracie (age 8):  What.
Isaac:  I knew that.  It's one of my favorites too.  That's why I picked it.
Dad:  Of course, that's after the Bible -- obviously the Bible is in a category all its own.  But after that, this is my favorite book.
Lily:  I love this stor-yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!
Dad:  Here's the reason it's my favorite.  I find some new detail, some new connection, every single time I read it.  And that's not an exaggeration.  EVERY time.  And I've read this countless times.
Isaac:  It's an awesome book.  It's just crazy though.  Sometimes it's really hard to understand it.
Dad:  This book even has a warning on the jacket flap.
Isaac:  And on the first page too.  There's a lot of warnings.
Dad:  So, is anyone brave enough to try to describe this book?
Isaac:  At the beginning, it seems like there are four different stories.
Gracie:  It tells all four stories at the exact same time.
Dad:  Each page spread is divided into four sections.
Lily:  But it's still just one story.
Dad:  This is a hard book to describe, isn't it?
Gracie:  It's a book with four parts.  Each part tells a story.  It's kind of fun, because you can imagine it as one story because the parts kind of hook up when it gets toward the end of the book.  But sometimes it's a little confusing.  You could imagine it as four different stories or as one big, very unusual story.
Dad:  Tell me about the individual stories.
Gracie:  One story called "Udder Chaos" is about cows and a robber.  One called "Waiting Game" is about waiting for a train.  One called "Problem Parents" is about parents dressed in newspaper-clothes.  And one called "Seeing Things" is about a little kid sitting in a train riding back to his parents because he went on a big trip all by himself.
Dad:  I like how there are four different styles of art for the four stories, even though there is one artist who made the book.
Gracie:  I like the way he drew "Problem Parents" because everything is brown, except for the dog and the newspaper and the son's shirt which are black and white.
Lily:  I like 'Udder Chaos" because you can find stuff hidden in the cow shapes.
Dad:  Tell me some of the elements that show up in more than one of the stories.
Isaac:  Traintracks.  That robber.
Lily:  Newspaper.  Singing.
Dad:  How about hats?
Gracie:  And cows.  Clouds.
Dad:  Yeah, see - that's something that I never noticed until this reading...  How clouds work their way into more than one story.
Isaac:  That dog looks like the masked bandit.
Dad:  You said all the stories "hook up."  How do they come together?
Isaac:  I think the mom and the dad from "Problem Parents" are at the train station waiting for the train.  And the train got blocked off...
Gracie: ...by the cows!
Isaac:  Yeah, the cows from "Udder Chaos."
Gracie:  And the train that the boy rides in "Seeing Things" is the same train the people are waiting for in "Waiting Game."  Everybody has to wait and wait and wait, so they start making clothes out of their newspapers.  And then the "Problem Parents" mom and dad come home in newspaper clothes, and they make the kids sing and jump around in the clothes.
Isaac:  I think this is ONE story.  Not four.  See, look in this picture...  The boy is playing with the train station, so that's why at the very end a giant hand picks it up -- because it's a model!  A train model.  It's a train model.
Dad:  So you think the story "Waiting Game" is happening inside "Problem Parents"?
Isaac:  Yeah!  Everything is happening at the same time.  Right now.
Dad:  But earlier you said the parents were at the train station in "Waiting Game," and then came home in their newspaper outfits in "Problem Parents."
(long pause)
Isaac:  That's one of the things that I don't get.  It confuses everything up.
Lily:  That is crazy.
Dad:  You can ALMOST try to figure out how all the stories fit together, but not quite.  As soon as you think you know how it works...
Isaac: ...something goes wrong.
Dad:  You see some other little detail, and you go, "Aww, but that can't be how they fit."
Isaac:  It's a weirdo book.  It's a really crazy-noodle book.
Dad:  This book feels like a riddle, but it doesn't necessarily have any answers.
Isaac:  It's just really confusing.
Gracie:  And I like being confused!
Dad:  Are there any other books you can think of that are ANYTHING like this?
Isaac:  No.
Gracie:  No.
Dad:  That's why I like this book so much.  There's nothing else in the entire world like it.  Maybe the movie "The Fountain," but you guys have never seen that.
Isaac:  I was thinking, it would have taken the guy who made this years and years and years of planning to get everything just right in this book.  All those details.
Dad:  It would be fun to talk to him and see what he thinks about this book.
Gracie:  He must like cows.
Isaac:  What if he had a master plan of how you can figure it out.
Dad:  The four individual stories probably make more sense each on their own.  I think it's only when you try to hook them together that it gets confusing.  But that's part of the fun game  ...for me, at least.
Isaac:  Hey, I know -- the robber goes through all the stories.  So that's why it's "One."  He shows up in all the stories.
Dad:  Okay, so that's your second theory now.  Or do you think one of these stories is the "Real" story going on?
Isaac:  "Problem Parents."  And these other stories are just going on in the son's mind.
Dad:  So they're all in his imagination?  That's our third theory.
Gracie:  I figured it out!  The CHOIR!  The robber is in the choir, the train-boy hears singing, the waiting people are singing, the parents are singing!
Dad: ...fourth theory.
Isaac:  Maybe the mom and dad are aliens, and they can shrink and grow...
Dad:  HA ha ha ha ha HA Hah!!!  So now, we've got aliens in the story?!
Isaac:  Why is this book called "Black and White" anyway?
Dad:  Well, let's see if you can answer your own question.  Let's name all the things that were black and white.
Isaac:  Cows.  The robber.
Gracie:  Newspaper.  Dog.  Striped shirt.
Isaac:  Newspaper shreds.
Dad:  There's a well-known expression.  When an issue is "black and white," it means there's no confusion.  It's obvious.  There's black, and there's white.  No gray areas.  Is this book very obvious about what's going on?
Gracie:  No-ho ho ho!
Dad:  It blurs what's real and not real, so the title itself is sort of a funny joke.
Isaac:  Is this a famous book?
Dad:  Well, it's got a big, gold sticker on the front.
Isaac:  Ahhh, so it won that one Thingamajigger.  A Caldecott.
Dad:  However, even though it got a Caldecott, I'm guessing the author/illustrator is far more well-known for his other books.  And not only is there no other book in the world like this, but the author has made lots of other books and they're nothing like this book either.
Isaac:  What are they?
Dad:  I should show you.
(Dad runs into the other room and back)
Dad:  So here are three other David Macaulay books we have.
Isaac:  Woah.  Out of all the books in the whole world, I did not expect those would be the three.
Dad:  We have "Castle," "Rome Antics," and "The Way Things Work."  They are cool, hyper-detailed, non-fiction books.
Isaac:  I bet the people who read this review are going to have no clue what we've been talking about.
Dad:  Yeah, that's my fear.  I worry that since the book is so unique, the review will be confusing, and no one reading this will want to go find this book.  SO...  tell me one reason why they should go find this book.
Isaac:  Because it's my dad's favorite book, and it's one of my very favorites.
Dad:  But give them a reason.
Gracie:  If you really like cows and reading the newspaper, go read this book.
Isaac:  Ha ha ha ha ha!
Dad:  So... that's a lot of people.
Kids:  Ha ha ha ha ha!
Lily:  And if you like to make paper hats!
Dad:  Okay, all those people that make paper hats and love cows are just going to storm the bookstores!  Demanding this book!
All:  Ha ha ha!  Hee hee ha!
Isaac:  Read the book.  It's a great book.  And then read the book again.

cows riding a train, by Lily


cow reading a newspaper, by Isaac


cow wearing a newspaper outfit, by Gracie


Author/Illustrator: David Macaulay
Published, 1990: Houghton Mifflin
Like it? Find it

6 comments:

Drafts for 5MfM said...

Well, if it's a favorite storrryyyyyyyyyyyy then it's a must-read, right!?

And I don't think I've ever seen a cow wearing a newspaper outfit before but it's kinda cute!

Heidi Noel said...

I don't have an all time favorite book besides the bible. My favorites change all the time. So, I will definitely have to find this one.

Andy said...

Despite your fear, this review has made me very interested in reading this book. It sounds awesome.

Z-Kids said...

Thanks Andy - that's good to know!

Heidi Noel, hope you enjoy it!

5MfM, I love it when the kids work with cut paper. A newspaper themed illustration was the perfect opportunity!

Z-Dad

Christine said...

I love this book. I used to use it when teaching high school English. Then I went on a nine year "maternity leave." I'm going back to teaching in September and am so glad you reminded me of this book and how fun it can be to explore with readers, young and old!

André said...

I must find this book.