________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 14 . . . . December 9, 2016


Du Iz Tak?

Carson Ellis.
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House Canada), 2016.
48 pp., hardcover, $21.99.
ISBN 978-0-7636-6530-2.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Christina Quintiliani.

**** /4


From the creative mastermind behind New York Times' bestselling Home comes Du Iz Tak?, an enchanting and captivating picturebook that seeks to awaken the imagination by commanding readers' full, unabated attention. Upon first glance at the cover, one could easily mistake Carson Ellis' work as a picturebook that has been translated into an alternative language. However, upon closer inspection, readers soon come to realize that Du Iz Tak? ("What is that?") is actually an introduction to an invented language, one formed out of Ellis' quirky and innovative approach to storytelling.

      Du Iz Tak? requires multiple readings and detailed inspections of each solitary illustration before the true essence of the book and its originality can be fully appreciated. In this tale, readers are treated to an inside look at the mysterious, animated lives of insects and their interactions with one another and their surrounding environment. Upon the discovery of an emerging sprout, a group of friendly bugs collaborate to construct their very own fort-like structure on which they engage in leisurely insect activities during the lazy summer months. Although a minor setback occurs when a unwelcomed, menacing spider suddenly enrobes the fort in webbing, making it momentarily unusable, the insects, with the aid of a bird who unexpectedly carries the spider away, quickly gather together to clean and reorganize their gathering place, making it their own once again. The concluding portions of the book see gradual changes in seasons, and the insects are sadly forced to temporarily abandon their makeshift fort in order to hibernate through the colder months. Upon the first signs of spring, a new tiny sprout emerges, and the adventure commences all over again, implying a direct association between the cyclical spirit of the seasons and the curious behaviours of nature's tiniest inhabitants.

      Ellis' creation of the unique language of "bug" is captivating. While the language spoken amongst the insects is completely foreign to human eyes, it can quickly be deciphered as Ellis' clever use of punctuation, capitalization, and detailed illustrations allow for a relatively effortless understanding of its implied meaning. By applying the main conventions and rules of language and by closely examining each illustration for subtle clues, readers can master the basics of "bug". Splendid attention to detail in the facial expressions of the insects and their purposeful pointing to specific items direct the reader's eye to what is needed to help transform the nonsensical into the logical. Ellis seamlessly interweaves a wide spectrum of emotions into a relatively short story, allowing audiences to fully experience the curiosity, joy, fear, sadness, and wonderment of the characters.

      Perhaps most captivating are the tiny, and often ingeniously, camouflaged details which can easily be missed in initial reads, details such as the small walking stick which blends so effortlessly into the setting that its sudden awakened state in the later portions of the book may go unnoticed if careful attention is not paid to the roll that each and every item plays in the larger plot. The inclusion of a smaller, heartwarming subplot, which unfolds in stages throughout the story, tugs at the heartstrings as it introduces a quiet, romantically ethereal component into the otherwise playful and zany adventures of the insects. Ellis' tranquil, earthy tones are complementary to the book's theme, and the strategic placement of each item on the page guides the reader's gaze straight to the features which aid in the comprehension process. The clever use of double-page spreads and the contrast between illustrative content and blank space is effective in depicting the bustling, miniature insect world that too frequently goes undetected by the human eye.

      The visual experience of Du Iz Tak? is enhanced via the inclusion of some illustrative sequences which are entirely wordless. These textless pages occur at critical moments in the story and help emphasize how storylines can be carried without the need for dialogue. Just as an individual learning a new language is often dependent upon pictures to provide clues about foreign words, Du Iz Tak? relies on the image to help its readers make sense of the otherwise mysterious and seemingly peculiar, backyard escapades.

      Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of Du Iz Tak? is that it allows for some individualism in interpretation of the language, such as possible variations in the insects' choice of adjectives used to describe the majestic "gladdenboot" (flower) which blooms at the top of the tree fort, mesmerizing all who are fortunate enough to witness its splendor. Younger audiences will unquestionably enjoy the fun-filled illustrations and the quest to decipher the curious conversations between the insects. Du Iz Tak? would serve as a valuable tool in the classroom for lessons in creative story writing that encourage a deeper understanding of semantics and language conventions through the combined use of word play, nonsense phrases, and images. Ellis' fanciful world of "bug" delights the eye and engages the mind. Du Iz Tak? is a picturebook game-changer that dazzles as brilliantly as the most beautiful and rare "gladdenboot". A refreshingly original addition to any classroom, school, or home library.

Highly Recommended.

Christina Quintiliani is an Ontario Certified Teacher and Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Education, Brock University, St. Catharines, ON., where she is researching children's literature.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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