David Macaulay's
Black and White

David Macaulay's Black and White

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 4-10

I'm going to see if I can scare you...

The first word in this book is "Warning." And oddly enough, this book bears a structural resemblance to Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.

Now I'm going to issue my own warning: If you click away from this review without buying (or borrowing) David Macaulay's Black and White, you're going to miss a tremendous opportunity to open your child's mind to everything literature (and art) can be.

Oh, and by the way...

Despite all the "warnings," there's nothing in this book that should threaten any family's values.


Now here's a little bit more of that opening alert:

This book appears to contain a number of stories that do not necessarily occur at the same time. Then again, there may be four stories. Or four parts of a story. Careful inspection of both words and pictures is recommended.

Hooked yet? I'll bet your kids will be!

David Macaulay's Black and White

Within the book, the next thing you'll encounter are four different titles:

  • Seeing Things
  • Problem Parents
  • A Waiting Game
  • Udder Chaos

The presentation is striking. Both left page and right page are divided into top and bottom rectangles, each with its own distinct visual style. (Macaulay won 1991's Caldecott Medal for best picture illustration for this book.)

Every turn of the page repeats the format. What's going on is that each quadrant represents a different story within the story. Start bedtime routines a little early on the first night you present Black and White, because you're going to need to page through this book four times!

Review continues.

a panel for each story

In the first story, a young boy travels a train alone. The train stops mysteriously. An old woman joins him in his compartment. (Give the old woman a close look!) The train resumes its travels, until it approaches a station where it appears to be snowing. The snow turns out to be tiny pieces of newspaper!

Now, you and your kids might be wondering: what the heck is with all the tiny pieces of newspaper? But this segment of the book, Seeing Things, leaves that question unanswered. You're going to have to page back to the beginning and read the second story.

Voila...you're hooked!

Once you've read all four stories you'll have a fair idea of what all went on. It'll be interesting to see whether you'll be explaining it to your kids or whether they'll be explaining it to you.

With a little help, even younger kids should be able to get the big picture.

David Macaulay's Black and White

I found the book artistically invigorating. As a screenwriter, I was awed by the innovative interplay of pictures with text and story with story.

As with Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (which this book predates!), a complete story is assembled only by telling individual stories, and each of these stories is told from the point of view of a different character. If you want to explore the structure of storytelling with your kids (who will of course be asked to do creative writing in school), this book provides the perfect opportunity to discuss the importance of viewpoint. Of each of the four stories, ask your child,

"Whose story is this?"

"The little boy's." "The big sister's." "The people at the train station." "The robber who broke out of jail."

Too many of our picture books, like TV, do the thinking for us. They tell a story; we absorb it and move on to the next. David Macaulay's Black and White is the rare book that asks more!

And as with anything challenging, the rewards are rich. If it had been up to me, author-illustrator Macaulay would have received a Newbery Medal (for writing) along with his Caldecott.

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Read more of Steve's reviews.

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