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Review of Picture This

bang_picture this first edstar2 Picture This: Perception and Composition
by Molly Bang; illus. by the author
Intermediate     Bulfinch/Little     141 pp.
9/91     Paper ed. 0-8212-1855-7     $12.95

With a foreword by Rudolf Arnheim. If I could buy only one book this year, this would be the one. If I could take only one book on a long vacation, this would be it — plus, of course, some scissors and construction paper so that I could explore, with Molly Bang as guide, the range of emotions that can be elicited by the interplay of shapes, sizes, and colors on a page. Using the familiar story of “Little Red Riding Hood” as a touchstone, she translates characters and situations into abstract shapes: Red Riding Hood as a red equilateral triangle; the forest as a series of long vertical rectangles; the wolf as three long black triangles. By experimenting — adding pointed teeth and a lolling tongue to the suggested visage of the wolf or tilting the trees to achieve a more menacing atmosphere — she explains not merely what but how a picture means. This process affords the same inside into the creation of visual effects that John Ciardi’s How Does a Poem Mean (Houghton) provided for the art of poetry. Bang extends the analysis from part one into a series of principles in part two and adds an additional commentary on the function of placement and space. The concluding section contains exercises for further experimentation and analysis. One in particular suggests the interplay between visual and written communications: “Illustrate a poem or series of poems, using the same three or four colors but representing different moods.” A teacher could expand this idea into analysis of a poem or even the visualization of conflicting forces in a historical event. Picture This extends the imagination, encourages creativity, and helps readers reexamine their world and themselves from different perspectives. One senses that it has the power to change anyone willing to admit its magic. Such an unassuming little book to contain so much, but then truth and beauty need no adornment! MARY M. BURNS

From the July/August 1992 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. A new edition, entitled Picture This: How Pictures Work, was published in 2000.

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