We recently pulled these three books by Hervé Tullet out of a box of review copies. You won’t see them reviewed in the Magazine or Guide, but we think they are worth noticing, especially for fans of Tullet’s 2011 Press Here. (The Guide doesn’t review toy books or board books, even though most of Tullet’s books printed on boards are for kids way beyond the chew-on-the-corners stage. Tullet’s books could still be reviewed by The Horn Book Magazine, but so far only two have.)
The big question for me is, “Are these books or games?” Each is part of a series, published by Phaidon, with the word “game” in the title: The Game of Let’s Go!, The Game of Mix-Up Art, etc.
There was a time I would have said these were games masquerading as books, but that was before Press Here — and before I saw Tullet in action and became a disciple. Now I think he’s a book-making genius who likes to push the boundaries of the picture book as an art form, manipulating the book as an object as much as he can to take advantage of its kinetic properties. He loves to play around with page turns: when to turn the page, how fast, and in which direction. Text is not sacred for him either. While Press Here gave explicit instructions to the reader, many of his other books could easily be wordless. When he shares them with children, he rarely reads what’s on the page, relinquishing control over the narrative and handing his reins to the audience.
The Countryside Game (above) actually is wordless, and the copy on the back cover urges back-and-forth exploration of overlapping scenes: “Tell your adventure aloud as you go — just turn the pages to begin!” Turning pages from the front begins the story with bright daytime colors and cheerful people. But flip from the back of the book and the nighttime setting is dark and spooky, full of menacing animals with white teeth. Where to start? Where to end? Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
The Game of Shadows has text but it doesn’t really need any. The back cover says, “You’ll need a grown-up’s help to play this game of shadows. In the dark, use your torch and embark on a magical night-time adventure.” I can imagine the adult making book shadows (you have to have long arms with the flashlight some distance from the wall) while the child extends the story with hand shadows.
The Finger Circus Game could seem like the tamest in the batch with a different circus act on each spread and two round cut-outs for fingers. But at a recent author event I got to see Tullet share it with a little girl from the audience. What a hit! First, Tullet drew a face on each of their index fingers. (What kind of face do you want? Happy? Surprised? Scared?) Wiggle the fingers to juggle, make them act silly for the clowns, etc. When the lion spread appears near the end of the book, you might choose to duck out of the hole in fear — but does that mean your head was just bitten off?! Probably not, because those fingers are back on the next spread doing a disappearing trick.
I’d love to know whether these books are getting attention from booksellers, librarians, and of course children and their adults. Are they finding an audience, despite the lack of Horn Book love? I hope so.
Photos: Lily Rothman