CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 38. . . .May 31, 2013
Children's picture books are a genre with a long history of "humor and playfulness and change." Think about classic Dr. Seuss, Mo Williems' Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!, David Shannon's No, David! or any of Sandra Boyton's glorious chaos. It seems appropriate, then, that a picture book be written about the Fluxus movement, which was "an art movement that started in the early 1960s" by people who "believed in friendship and in doing beautiful and crazy things that would invite people to look at the world around them in a new way." Mr. Flux tackles the Fluxus movement through a story about a man named Mr. Flux who moves into a neighbourhood which is "a very nice but predictable place." He befriends a boy named Martin and, through him, teaches the whole neighbourhood about the joys of change.
For a picture book about change and play, this book is curiously static. Partly this stillness is due to Matte Stephens' gouache illustrations - the medium means that even the silliest situation looks a bit stiff. For instance, there is a picture of Mr. Flux lying on his back playing a tuba filled with tennis balls; a bird is blowing into a second mouthpiece on the instrument. This picture is technically accomplished and nicely composed on the page, but it doesn't create a sense of sound or movement. His illustrations are also mostly composed of slightly muddy pastel colours, a palette which adds to a sombre mood.
I imagine that the publishers were trying to avoid the book being overwhelmed – a book about silliness with very lively illustrations could easily have been too much. However, the written text is also quite static. There is a lot of text. The sentences are long, and vocabulary is generally formal. Maclear does play with language a few times – at one point Martin refuses a gift from Mr. Flux because "he suspected it contained cacophony, disorder and germs." With this exception, the language is serious and somewhat stiff. The combination of static images and text makes for a static picturebook.
The concept of a picture book about the Fluxus movement has a lot of potential. I wish the creators had demonstrated the joys of being silly and playful rather than stating them. However, I would recommend this book for older children who are interested in art.
Lian Beveridge is a PhD graduate from the University of British Columbia. Her primary research interests are children's literature and queer theory.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.