Whimsical New Picture Books with a Spotlight on Wordplay

WORDPLAY
Written and illustrated by Ivan Brunetti
40 pp. Toon Books. $12.95.
(Picture book; ages 3 to 7)

Children’s picture books are called picture books for a reason. The words are vital, of course, and they usually play an equal role, but the pictures pretty much always do the heavy lifting. In books where the words are understated or spare, the pictures are often overstated and elaborate. And then there are the wordless picture books, where the pictures don’t even share the spotlight.

In these five new picture books, the pictures are back at center stage, but the spotlight is on the words — or play of words. This subtle relationship shift has consequences. As the wordplay gets more complex, the pictures must exert more effort and ingenuity to make sense out of it. The result is uniquely offbeat, and wildly whimsical.

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An opposing pair: From “Double Take.”

Most kids are familiar with the cryptic question: “Why is 6 afraid of 7?” The answer is Tara Lazar’s latest title: “7 Ate 9.” Lazar has transformed this classic riddle into an improbable whodunit, featuring an all-star cast of large, brightly colored, walking, talking numbers. The pun-laden story, told in the voice of a hard-boiled private eye (played, naturally, by the letter I), involves the attention-seeking number 6 (a.k.a. The Client), who tries to pin a dreadful crime (cannibalism!) on the elusive number 9. Along the way there are supporting roles from Zero (shrewdly posing as an 8), and 11 (never far from 7) and B, a waitress who serves pi. Yes, pi. If this seems a little complicated, well, it is, but in a stylish, film noir kind of way. Lazar’s crisp, well-paced prose, combined with Ross MacDonald’s dynamic illustrations, make the story a lot of fun to read, even if you have to backtrack to get your numbers straight. Think of it as a kid-friendly version of “The Maltese Falcon,” only with larger than life-size…

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