Simler (Plume, 2017) presents a seemingly guileless visual inventory of nature’s minutiae, but a spider’s surreptitious, side-by-side activity conveys a more mysterious subtext in this French import.
“In nature there is much to see, if you look closely.” A stylized oceanside scene—trees and flowers in the foreground, boats sailing, gulls flying, a shark swimming—seems idyllic enough. “You may find… / …leaves, / catkins and seeds,” and so much more. Simler invites readers to pore over exquisitely rendered natural elements, including multiple spreads of insects. Each creature, flower, or thorny stem appears against white space on the left, labeled with its common name. Each right-hand page features a close-up of the spider—often glimpsed only in part—interacting with one or more of these objects or critters. She’s making off with a fern frond, an emerald-hued shield bug, an acorn cap, even some pebbles—but why? The puzzle’s solved as Simler reveals “a web, / and a skillful, watchful artist… / …weaving a delicate masterpiece.” Readers see each captured element suspended in the web, carefully arrayed to replicate the seascape introduced at the outset. A thorn’s the shark’s fin; nutshells stuck with feathers are sailboats. The allegorical denouement (the spider’s an “artist” rather than a predatory arachnid) feels manipulative, counteracting the relative verisimilitude with which Simler approaches her natural catalog.
Visually stunning, and meta, sorta, but ultimately discordant. (Picture book. 4-8)