The Incredible Flatness of Being

shapes by John. J. Reiss. Little Simon, 2016. 9781481476454. 34pp.

colors by John J. Reiss. Little Simon, 2016. 9781481476430. 34pp.

Two classic picture books from the late 60s and early 70s featuring what I think of as flat art — bold, uniform colors, no shadows, gradients, or textures. (The board book format’s cardboard pages makes the art feel even flatter.) I’ve got no idea how art like this was colored before the age of Photoshop but it’s simply wonderful to look at. In shapes a gray fox and his friend, a mole, show where colorful basic shapes like triangles and circles appear in things like sails and thumbtacks, and how they can be combined to make more complex shapes like pyramids and spheres. There are even pentagons and hexagons and more. In colors Reiss shows the variety of what we might refer to as “blue,” “yellow,” and other colors by showing differently colored things — cornflowers, blueberries, the sea / baby chicks, bees, squash — that are not all the same color as each other. Like the fish on the cover, the entire design emphasizes that things we can group as the same aren’t the same. And his section on green includes gooseberries, which kids need to know about so that stores will continue to stock gooseberry jam, which I love.

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