Not all children's books are really for children. This may sound absurd, but if you take certain books, like the pop-up book, that are usually meant for kids, you'll be surprised to find that adults are encroaching on this delightful terrain. Actually, it's not a surprise. Who really ever grows out of the sheer pleasure of opening a book and having the pages turn into leaping dolphins or rocket ships or Alice falling down the rabbit hole?
The next, predictable step, of course, is for adults to make this kind of book entirely theirs. For example, take the recently published Pop-up Book of Nightmares created and written by Gary Greenberg . He's the same author who gave us the Pop-up Book of Phobias a few years ago. Now you'll probably find this in the "humor" or "other" sections of your local bookstore, but some unsuspecting clerk could well shelve this thick tome in the children's section because they think "pop-ups" equal "kids." One doesn't want to imagine the reaction of a seven year old who happens upon a book that has vivid three dimensional pages to illustrate the nightmares of drowning after falling through the ice or of begin chased by dogs or of waking up in a haunted bedroom with a strange ghost-child at the footboard. These are some of the adult nightmares that are brilliantly engineered in this alternately unsettling and funny volume.
We're amused, in part, because pop-up books are usually amazements made out of paper, things that quite naturally make us gasp and giggle. And even when their subject is as macabre as the Pop-up Book of Nightmare's is, we can't help but chuckle over the sinister predicaments that the viewer (who is really each of us) finds her or himself in. It's a bit like laughing, ruefully, over Coyote's fate in the Roadrunner cartoons. The Germans had a word for it, Schadenfreude, a kind of joy taken in the misfortune of others. Only here, in The Pop-up Book of Nightmares, it's our own imagined misfortunes that we grown up children are laughing at, and maybe that is the best way to treat those things that go bump in the night -- with a proper amount of awe and laughter.
Today's book: The Pop-Up Book of Nightmares, created and written by Gary Greenberg, Illustrated by Balvis Rubess, Pop-ups by Matthew Reinhart. A Melcher Media Book from St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-28263-X.
Copyright © 2002 by John Cech
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Wednesday, 04-Sep-2002 22:21:32 EDT