In the Driver’s Seat

November 2, 2012 § 2 Comments

If there’s something all kids can agree on, it’s the thrill of being in the driver’s seat. Getting their choice—heck, coming up with the choices in the first place—seeds the adrenaline that drives our little ones forward in their quest for independence and control. Perhaps no author-illustrator understands this better than Chris Van Dusen, who has a knack for knowing what kids (especially boys) want and serving it up in rollicking rhyme and neo-futuristic illustrations. Years ago, when If I Built a Car was published, it instantly became my shop’s “go to” book for anyone headed to a four or five year old’s birthday party; we only stopped stocking it when virtually every family in a 15-mile radius owned the book.

The good news is that Van Dusen has now written an equally captivating follow-up—and one with an arguably broader appeal (girls will dig this, too). In If I Built a House (Ages 3-6), a young boy named Jack describes with contagious enthusiasm his dream house. I challenge any child to come up with a TV show or video game with more allure than a house containing an anti-gravity room, an underwater chamber, an art room with walls made of drawing paper, a bedroom atop a high tower with the world’s longest spiraling tunnel slide for descent, and a jet-powered Plexiglass Playroom that detaches to fly around the neighborhood.

Kids will feast their eyes on these features, brilliantly brought to life by Van Dusen’s kitschy paintings, which are meant to mimic the kind of future forecasting prominent in 1950’s and 60’s editions of Popular Science magazines (or, for us children of the 70s, remember that “Tomorrowland” exhibit at Epcot Center that our parents got so excited about?). My five year old was even enthralled with the book’s endpapers, which feature blueprint sketches for Jack’s house, as well as a slew of other inventive structures (the “upside down house” got an especially big chuckle). No, you can’t go wrong gifting a book about robots that cook your meals and rooms so big you can ride race cars across them. Better yet, you can’t go wrong gifting a book that encourages dreaming on the grandest of scales. It’s like telling our kiddos: if you don’t like something, dream it better. You may not get it, but the titillating distraction of the dream itself is usually well worth the journey.

The big reveal: what the house looks like when it’s finished.

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§ 2 Responses to In the Driver’s Seat

  • This is Chris Van Dusen. I was thrilled to read your new review of “If I Built a House”. Thank you so much for including it in your blog. I really appreciate the kind words. And thanks for directing my CAR book to your customers. I smiled when you said you stopped because everyone in the area already had the book!

    I do want to correct one thing in your review though. You mentioned that my illustrations were “computer generated”. A lot of people make that mistake, but my illustrations are actually paintings. I think since my colors are so smooth and flat that readers often assume I could only achieve that with a computer, but all of my illustrations are painted with a paint called gouache (I tell kids it rhymes with “squash”). They are painted on illustration board and each spread takes me about 2-3 weeks to paint. A book like “If I Built a House” takes me about 10 months to illustrate.

    Just thought I’d clarify that. Otherwise the review is great! Thanks again for the compliments.

    • Wow, Chris, I’m so flattered that you 1) found my blog 2) read my blog and 3) commented on my blog! I absolutely adore your work. Actually, The Circus Ship ranks as one of my favorite books EVER IN HISTORY, and Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit is another that’s read frequently with passion at my house (hmmmm, I smell more blog posts…). Thank you so much for correcting me about your paintings. I feel like maybe someone told me years ago (around the time of the first Mercy Watson perhaps) that your illustrations were done on a computer, and the tidbit just stuck–clearly very incorrectly. Anyway, I have modified my review, and I really appreciate your drawing my attention (and, hopefully, my readers’ attention) to the painstaking process of gouache painting (which will now forever remind me of squashes). I actually experimented with gouache years ago in a painting class and, needless to say, never again…I’ll leave the artistry to you and I’ll stick to writing about your masterpieces. Thanks again, Chris!

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