Look! What Do You See? An Art Puzzle Book of American and Chinese Songs

Xu Bing, illus. by Becca Stadtlander. Viking, $18.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-451-47377-6
At first glance, Stadtlander’s graceful folk art scenes of American life appear to be accompanied by Chinese calligraphy; readers may be tempted to focus on the artwork and pass the Chinese characters by. But contemporary artist Xu’s “top secret assignment” on the first page explains that the first 12 compositions are the words to American folk songs. With this information and the eventual recognition that the “Chinese” glyphs are built out of stylized Roman letters—“I,” “on,” “my,” and “oh” are pretty easy to read—the characters begin to reveal themselves as blocks of Chinese-style brushstrokes that actually depict English words. The first painting shows men and women at a barn dance. Is it “Skip to My Lou”? (It is.) Once readers get the hang of it, guessing the other songs isn’t too difficult, but it’s plenty rewarding. Although the book is not intended as an introduction to reading Chinese, the process of puzzling out Xu’s word glyphs isn’t unrelated to the mental operation of decoding Chinese characters. Five Chinese songs follow for the truly intrepid, and the lyrics and an explanation of Bing’s writing system appears at the end. Ages 7–10. Illustrator’s agency: Bright Group. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/25/2017
Release date: 11/07/2017
Genre: Children's
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