Advanced reading group

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There are really too damned many “children’s books” out there. Not that kids shouldn’t read; it’s just that most books are obviously written by adults and that’s obvious even to kids. Sure, you have to consider different levels of intellectual development, but too often “children’s book” means painfully unimaginative stories about fuzzy bunnies illustrated by uninspired artists wielding too many shades of pastel.

The Pig in the Spigot, by Pulitzer Prize-winner and former poet laureate of the United States Richard Wilbur, and illustrator J. Otto Seibold — creator, with wife Vivian Walsh, of such books as Olive the Other Reindeer and the surreal heir to the Curious George series throne, Mr. Lunch — is not one of those books.

Seibold’s hypersaturated, hyperbusy, surreal illustrations complement perfectly the funky, inventive rhythms of Wilbur’s poetic-syntactic ruminations. Seibold’s trademark Adobe Illustrator-generated cut-and-paste creatures live in wondrous miniworlds that beg for either repeat readings or long periods of eyeball reflection. Like that other dean of otherworldly children’s illustrations, Richard Scarry, Seibold scatters “Easter eggs” throughout each page. And Wilbur is right there with him, leaving his own treasures for young readers and adults with enough of their “child’s mind” left to enjoy such passages as “It’s hard to think in crowded places where/Loud music, squeals and clatter fill the air,/And brainless persons holler “Yo!” and “Hey!”/That’s why idea is found in hideaway.

(The above is accompanied by a photo that can only be described as a snail being digested by a bloated phantasmagorical rabbit — such is Seibold’s style that you really must see to believe.)

Sure the text is ostensibly for 9- to 12-year-old readers, but it doesn’t fall into the trap of talking down to them. Quite the opposite. The effect is likely that young readers will be bitten by the language bug (consciously or not, much like the way Dr. Seuss still sneaks into our language).

Let’s face it, kids are brighter than we usually give them credit for (or the opportunity to express). The Pig in the Spigot is book enough to meet them halfway and take them to previously unimagined new lands.

For a further taste of Seibold’s work, visit www.jotto.com.

E-mail Chris Handyside at letters@metrotimes.com.

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