Inspired by a photograph showing a family of three, the man wearing horizontal stripes, the woman vertical, and the child a checkered shirt, this whimsical debut picture book challenges the limits of ultradesigned books for children.
The characteristics and preferences of the pinheaded protagonists are illustrated in bold geometric black and white on strong, flat background colors. Mister Horizontal, predictably, loves the smooth, gliding motions of rollerblading and sailing. Miss Vertical prefers dizzying aerial adventures; she “loves launching herself into orbit and looping through the air.” Mister Horizontal likes to bend and stretch, (which action confusingly causes his stripes to be vertical on the page.) Miss Vertical, the thrill seeker, loves high-wire acrobatics, elevators, bungee jumping, rockets, skyscrapers and balloons. Mister Horizontal, more down-to-earth, prefers the desert, the ocean, ants marching in straight lines, lounging, napping and gardening. The book’s ulterior motive is suddenly revealed at the end, in a question: “Now what do you think… / …their child will love?” And there is their child, wearing a checkered shirt, just like the boy in a closing photo. Witty, clever, elegantly designed but certainly not touchy-feely, this book is a somewhat strained synthesis of graphic illustration, seemingly designed to teach the concept of orientation in conjunction with an analysis of personality traits.
Eye-catching though it is, it is unlikely to displace more traditional, warmer offerings on this subject. (Picture book. 5-8)