Open[xrr rating=3.75/5]One lovely consequence of the rise of e-readers is the emergence of printed works that tease our notions about what books are and why tangibility matters. 2013 saw the release of Chris Ware’s Building Stories, a graphic novel installation assembly (is that what it is?) made up of 14 pieces, from teensy pamphlet to fold-out game board. Necessarily interactive, the reader literally unpacks the story – Ware provides the narrative but you don’t just read it, you find it. Similarly, media wunderkind J.J. Abrams’ newest print release, S., contains so much loose ephemera that even librarians are emitting a heavy sigh. True, books like these are a pain in the neck to catalog and circulate, but one thing is for sure: they aren’t downloadable reads. More and more books feature Kindle-averse elements that call for a reader’s engagement not just with the text, but with the design as well. Children’s books can afford to be especially playful with this trend, as Jesse Klausmeier’s Open This Little Book demonstrates. Conceptually simple, the architecture of this picture book isolates and elevates the quaint pleasure of turning pages.

A twist on the nesting doll aesthetic, Open This Little Book presents itself as a series of books within books, each one smaller than the previous. A ladybug reads a green book about a frog, who is reading an orange book about a rabbit, and so forth until we graduate all the way up to a giant – who, as it turns out, needs his friends’ help in turning the pages of his comparatively minuscule rainbow book. In this way, the reader “opens” one book after another. Illustrator Suzy Lee draws this world with an uncomplicated fancy reminiscent of a mid-century coloring book. The scenes are monochromatic with pops of contrast, and the patterns on the covers of the books predict who we visit next. “The Little Yellow Book” depicts a honeycomb design, which foreshadows the bear that is its subject. Lee also nudges more experienced readers who are familiar with classic children’s lit, as the frog in the top hat recalls Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows and the rabbit, naturally, is outfitted with a pocket watch.

In addition to color and pattern, Klausmeier and Lee tinker with the themes of proportion and size, as critters get bigger while their corresponding books get smaller. The dissonance of a bug’s book being the biggest adds a drop of kiddie comedy to the narrative. The pacing is like the lifecycle of a deep breath, expanding as we clamber our way up, and blowing out as we close up the books one by one. Through both its storyline and graphic design, Open This Little Book challenges the assumption that reading is a passive, closed circuit activity.

The plot alone exhausts itself quickly, but, particularly for early elementary readers, the details having to do with color, animals and scale provide plenty of opportunities for looking and lingering. The infinite regress angle is sure to occupy imaginations as well as page-flipping hands. Open This Little Book has but one humble request: that readers consider it an instruction manual.

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