Subscribe to The Horn Book

Grown-ups behaving badly

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.

before heat...

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.

...and after.

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.

About Jamie Tan

Jamie Tan is an editorial intern at The Horn Book, Inc.



  1. Adult audience? I’m sure this was produced with hair dryer-wielding one-year-olds in mind….

  2. If you google “Keep Our Secrets” you can see a video of a small child interacting with the book and seeming to enjoy it very much. I can’t wait to pick this up for my kids, personally.

  3. @Shoshana: Toddlers and Tiaras anyone?

    @Josh: I hope your children enjoy the book!

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind