Mac Barnett (text), Jon Klassen (illus), Triangle, Walker Books, 14 March 2017, 48pp., $24.99 (hbk.), ISBN 9781406376678
Many readers will be familiar with Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen from their multi-award winning collaboration Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. In Triangle, they again combine brilliantly to spin a simple ‘there-and-back-again’ tale: Triangle visits Square to play a ‘sneaky trick’ on him; Square follows Triangle home and plays a trick in return.
Uncomplicated illustrations match the straightforward narrative: triangle and square shapes dominate, each painted from a limited palette of black, brown and a limpid blue-green. White space abounds.
But simplicity in a picture book can be beguiling, and that is the case with Triangle. Klassen mixes his brown and blue-green palette to create beautiful shades and textures. (The earth-tones and textures will be recognised by those who have read Sam and Dave Dig a Hole.) The formations of squares and triangles, creating the back-dropped landscape to the characters’ journeys, emit a luminous quality. Two dimensions uncannily become three. When the back-drop shifts mid-journey to rounded, black ‘shapes with no names’, the impression is more solid and just a little threatening. Does danger lurk behind these shapes?
Barnett’s word range—like Klassen’s colours—is limited. But even within this narrow span, the narrative is able to evoke a fairytale sensibility. The book’s final page poses a question about Square’s self-confessed trick-playing motivation. The reader is asked: ‘Do you really believe him?’ Although this ending is unanticipated, and struck me as a little abrupt, it opens up the possibility of introducing children to the concept of the unreliable narrator. In a school context, children could have fun creating their own shape-based narratives and illustrations, a seamless way to combine language and maths activities.
Triangle has a thick, card cover with rounded edges, making it both sturdy and comfortable to hold. The book is the first in a planned trilogy—Square and Circle will be along shortly.
Highly recommended For ages 3+
Reviewed by Tessa Wooldridge