After spending fifteen minutes rubbing pages and getting curious looks from passersby in the office (“why, yes, I am one of the new interns, and yes, I rub board book pages in my spare time; why do you ask?”), I finished reading Jordan Crane’s heat-sensitive, color-changing board book Keep Our Secrets (McSweeney’s McMullens, November). Two children navigate a grown-up party, stepping over shoes, spilled drinks, and a half-eaten sandwich to escape outdoors and into a tree, which feels quieter and safer than the house they have just left.
The book oscillates between charming and disconcerting. The faceless party-goers (anonymous in a Peanuts-adult sort of way) seem out of control, ignoring the children who are out of place at the raucous party. The two children side-step potential hazards and cautiously examine the more questionable guests. The girl reinterprets each scene for the boy to make the unchild-friendly place more tolerable, and her inventive descriptions are cleverly illustrated under the heat-sensitive sections.
The boy’s discomfort is evident; as he cowers from the influx of strange items and people, the girl protectively ushers him through the chaos. The pair climbs a tree and finds some respite in nature. The story ends on the back cover as the children walk away together with backs to the reader, a reminder that they are destined to become adults like those they have left behind.
I wish it wasn’t so difficult to use the heat-sensitive pages. Eventually I used a hair dryer to uncover the images as the marketing materials suggested. I liked subtle details such as a squirrel mother with half-finished laundry—the animals seem more responsible than their human counterparts.
This book will undoubtedly appeal more to adults, who will pick up the story’s commentary on neglect and lost innocence. Although they will probably be fascinated by the interactive illustrations, I’m not sure kids will get it. But, like me, they may enjoy stepping into this alternate universe, where seemingly ordinary objects are revealed to be “fulla canaries” or other surprises.