Magritte’s brand of surrealism is inherently intriguing to children; Belgian artist Verplancke builds on that interest, inventing a playful narrative that explores his compatriot’s subjects and style while showcasing his own formidable talent.
Opening panels portray the artist in bed, wide awake. Carefully chosen words contrast and connect to pull readers—and man—forward: “René was a painter, / but René couldn’t paint…. // His canvas was empty, / but his head was full.” He eventually approaches the easel, stares at a green apple, and nods off: images flow from his dreams. Wearing blue pajamas, the artist reaches across the page turn to paint himself in a suit and bowler hat. That figure stretches over the gutter to form an apple, a hat, and finally an “applehat,” the catalyst for more surprising mergers (a pipe and branch, spectacles and eggs). Subsequent spreads add frames and words to further tease imagination; i.e., a mouth fashioned from a red leaf is entitled “the mirror.” Verplancke mixes spare figures outlined and crosshatched in ink, fully colored compositions, and Magritte’s “impossible” views—windows as canvases, bright skies over a dark cityscape—to achieve the appropriate arc and atmosphere. He wisely emphasizes humor and clever visuals over facts to convey Magritte’s essence. Six reproductions in the backmatter prompt reflection and a return to the mind-boggling interior.
Absurdity at its best. (biographical note, selected works) (Picture book. 4-8)