Picture books are the perfect place to play with shape, color, composition, and line in creative ways. Anyone who has ever read Molly Bang’s classic Picture This: How Pictures Work, which lays out how the components of picture book art work together to tell a story and inform readers’ emotions, knows this. (Bang’s book was originally published in 1991, though I read this week that Chronicle Books will release a revised and expanded 25th anniversary edition this Fall, which is most excellent news.) I’ve spotted two new picture books that play with shape and line in smart ways, and today I’m highlighting them.

Silvia Borando’s wordless Near, Far will be on shelves next week, and the Kirkus review—I love this—calls it “mind-expanding.” This book was originally published in Italy in 2013 as Vicino lontano, but it’s on American shelves now, thanks to Candlewick Press. At least two of Borando’s previous books have been published here in the States, and Candlewick, as I understand it, is releasing even more of her imports this year. She’s an artist who communicates a lot with little and plays cleverly with shape and line.Seven_Near,Far

Near, Far is a bit of a wild ride, no matter your age. Every third spread features a creature, and the two spreads before it reveal only a portion of that animal. The first spread shows that part of the creature as if you are standing very close to it. The next spread puts you, as the reader, a bit further out. All the while, you are guessing what it is you see. That third spread puts you so far back that you can see the creature as a whole. (And when you finally get to see it, it’s staring out of the book, wide-eyed and rather alarmed. It’s funny stuff.)

But Borando never makes it easy, which is where the delight lies. For instance, the first spread in the book shows you what look like two green hills on a solid orange background. You are further out on the next spread to see more of these hills, but they appear smaller. It’s a series of hill-esque shapes, and they look a lot like green waves atop water. Step back again, and voila! It’s a crocodile, and those shapes that appeared hill-like are really the animal’s ridges, the armor on his back.

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This is the name of the game, and it’s great fun for readers to guess what it is they are seeing. What looks like an elephant’s head and trunk is really, the page turn reveals, a tiny bird and its tail. Brilliantly, Borando even plays with the placement of images on the page to trip up readers. A trio of spreads shows orange and bright pink shapes. As the reader, I focused on the orange, which dominates the page, to determine what I was seeing. The big reveal is a pink bunny on an orange background. Because Borando put the bunny’s legs on the top of the first spread (the smaller pink spots), she directed my eye to the orange, which I never would have suspected was the background color. Instead, I was working hard to make a shape out of something with no form at all.

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This is not only an entertaining guessing game for children, but it’s working their brains in some pretty powerful ways – asking them to discern meaning by assessing shape, line, composition, and negative space. Or, as the Kirkus review notes, perception is everything here. And page turns are king.

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Ann Rand’s What Can I Be? was evidently written in the 1970s. The publisher says it was “unearthed after nearly forty years.” Rand, who died in 2012, was an architect and collaborated as an author with her husband Paul Rand on several children’s books. This concept book, illustrated by Ingrid Fiksdahl King, a Norwegian painter and architect, also uses simple shapes and colors to kick-start the imagination of child readers.

“I’m round. I’m red. What can I be?” the book opens with a simple, heavily-outlined circle on the left and a mostly red page on the right. That could be an apple, a lollipop, or “the sun before it sets behind a high hilltop.” Each suggestion is given its own illustration, and King renders it all in beautiful paintings, sometimes slightly surreal and always full of intriguing shapes to pore over. Her painting for the “sail of a boat” includes undulating mermaids and fish, swirling together in a bright-red seascape. This is a book to read slowly and soak in.

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Rand brings readers spreads with blue squares (they can be window panes or the tops of boxes); curvy lines (snakes, the “ruffled edge of waves”); green triangles (tents, trees); and more. “There are so many things that I could be,” she closes, as we see the outline of a boy who has made his way through the book. “We’ll have to wait and see just what you make of me.” It’s a book all about possibility, imagination, and the wonders of the physical world.

Each book is smart and fun – and a guessing game of the best kind.

Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.

WHAT CAN I BE? Copyright © 2016 Ann Rand Ozbekhan. Illustrations © 2016 Ingrid Fiksdahl King. Illustration used by permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, New York. 

NEAR, FAR. Copyright © 2013 by minibombo . Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.