Thursday, September 13, 2012

Return of the Dapper Men

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Return of the Dapper Men (Archaia, 2010).

Return of the Dapper Men, an absolutely charming children's book by Jim McCann and Janet Lee, is very much like a comic, but it's much more than that. There are word balloons, sometimes, and when there is a need for dialogue, the structure follows the conventions of comic layout and pacing, but it is really more of an all-ages storybook, beautifully designed, and desiring of a treasured place on shelves near your nicest editions of Alice and Where the Wild Things Are.

It is set in a place called Anorev, "a land of children and machines. Neither knew who made the other and both claimed to be the First." The scientific explanation of what has gone on here might invoke a phrase like "time has stopped," but the lyrical prose and slowly laid out explanations keep things simple. One day, a tock never followed a tick. And so Anorev, a world without adults and a world without tomorrows, creates a new paradigm where kids and robots don't like each other very much and a strange struggle, with rising tensions and uncertainty, keeps building until, in one of the most beautiful and surprising things that could happen in a book like this, 314 well-dressed men with umbrellas descend from the sky. They have come to fix things, but one of their number has a notion to repair even more than was planned.

This is a very entertaining and clever story, with gentle twists and unexpected developments throughout. As befits a fantastic fairy tale like this, the way that it is told, and the artistic presentation, is very much part of the experience. It's a truly beautiful book, fabulously designed, and I love the way Lee created the pages. A section in the back, following the adventure explains the "decoupage" technique, demonstrating how some of the backgrounds were created. The book is truly a labor of love that results in a whimsical and memorable adventure, and is recommended for all ages.

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