by Barbara Lehman
It's no secret that kidlets "read" illustrations, mostly by puzzling out the visual clues and piecing together a narrative, even if makes sense only to them.
There aren't any words in this book, so it's up to parent and child to decide what goes on as a boy in a red hoodie makes his way through a museum on a school trip. You follow that red hoodie off the bus and into a gallery with its sprinkling of recognizable masterpieces by Van Gogh, Matisse and many others.
The boy looks up after tying his shoe and his classmates have vanished. He wanders alone into a side exhibit of mazes and is suddenly transported into the meandering constructs. Here's where it gets murky -- is he imagining this, or is this a fantasy device?
Keep your eye on the hoody. The splash of crimson creates a visual trail of crumbs for readers, pulling our eyes along as the boy makes his way through the inky sketches on faded sienna parchents to a tower in the middle of the final maze.
Lehman brings us closer, closer, as we zoom in on the tower and the streaked, stained paper, until we peer through a keyhole to see a gold medal placed around his neck.
The perspective lurches back to reveal him standing over the exhibit, so the mystery remains intact. Did he really get a gold medal? Where is it? Keep your eye on ... well, you know.
And as the museum director waves all the kids goodbye, what's that around his neck?
Now go back and reread the thing, looking again at the director early on. And scout for other clues -- every new reading will yield ones you missed, but they're often in the how and not the what.
The figures are flatly drawn, and when the boy appears alone on an otherwise blank, white page, you're drawn to his expressions of surprise, confusion or happiness. The keyhole page is especially brilliant, as if we're peeking through our own world into the mysterious one of the maze.
When he's in the landscape, he becomes a small, lost figure as wings of the museum lurch out of view or staircases lead away from us, creating a labyrinthian space that echoes the mazes. Lehman uses perspective sparingly and with a handful of straight lines and angles, creating a sense of movement that keeps pages turning without bogging us down in detail.
Yet the story that Lehman draws is pleasantly complex and visually exciting, aiming at both adult and kid so that each one reads at their respective level.