The Painted Circus: P.T. Vermin Presents a Mesmerizing Menagerie of Trickery and Illusion Guaranteed to Beguile and Bamboozle the Beholder
by Wallace Edwards
Kids Can Press
I got new glasses just in time for these 32 pages of "visual trickery and optical illusions," which set my head spinning nonetheless.
You've seen some of these tricks before: the grimacing old face that smiles when turned upside down, or the concentric circles that seem to spin if you move the page. And no doubt you've seen old circus posters, with their pageantry and pizazz and over-the-bigtop weirdness.
But I bet you haven't seen them presented quite like this. The idea of displaying brain teasers as a visual freak show is one of those head-slapping original ideas, and even if you aren't a wide-eyed kindergartener, it's mind-boggling and crazy-making in the best possible way.
A mouse in a ringmaster's costume narrates, and the hyperbole soars higher than acrobatic elephants -- if you can manage to count them all.
Each page is a masterpiece of sleight of hand and artistic tomfoolery, done as its own circus poster and posing a different problem. In one, a red jelly bean must feed two hungry alligators in jester costumes. You're given a hint and if you're really stuck, answers are in the back. *Spoiler zone:* bring the jelly bean page to your nose so you see double.
There's plenty going on in the background too, creating a whirl of activity for repeated reads, and you still feel like you must be missing things. But this is no workbook -- it's a high-end picture book that -- presto -- vanishes any barrier between writer and reader for a unique experience each time.
This is one of my favorite concept books of the year, maybe of all time, capturing the excitement and wonder of a circus with the satisfaction of a good think. Plus, it's one very weird book. Did I mention that?
Update: It's been shortlisted by the Canada Council for the Arts for their 2007 Governor General's Literary Awards. Winners will be announced Nov. 27.