|Oct/Nov 2005 Book Reviews|
Top Shelf Productions (2005)
There's a magic about summer when you're young, when the air is pregnant with possibilities, when adventure lies around every corner. Secrets hide just under the surface of everyday life, and summer is the perfect opportunity to spend your days ferreting them out. Certain books have the ability to invoke that magical time when kids have absolute faith in their intelligence and talent, and the knowledge that anything is possible. Spiral-Bound by Aaron Renier is one of those books.
Spiral-Bound is the story of a group of friends and their adventures over one "top secret" summer. Although brimming with supporting characters, the story focuses on four: Patrick, a shy elephant; Stucky, a gregarious hound dog; Ana, a plucky rabbit; and Emily, a courageous little bird with a camera. Patrick and Stucky are new friends, and spend their days at sculpture camp, where Patrick discovers his previously unrealized talent for sculpture, and Stucky has more vision than he has time when it comes to the giant submarine statue he wants to build. They're taught by Ms. Skrimshaw, a bespectacled whale who rolls around on land in a huge glass globe, passing along encouragement and instruction as her students struggle to express their vision.
Ana and Emily's summer education is more covert as they are recruited to work at the city's literally underground newspaper. As they are initiated into the world of the paper, they're introduced to a vast system of tunnels and trolleys that run under the city, allowing them to get anywhere quickly and secretly. The pages of their notebooks are coded with maps of the tunnels in invisible ink, and they're cautioned to keep their knowledge of these things top secret. At first Ana is disappointed when she's assigned to write about the sculpture class, but everyone finds themselves deep in adventure when a mystery surrounding the abandoned pond and a possible sea monster erupts into a fight between Ms. Skrimshaw and the other adults of the city.
As the kids try to discover why the adults are so opposed to the idea of a sculpture garden by the pond, they learn about art, friendship, and the limits that fear can impose. The adults are realistically portrayed as rational but fallible; when they turn against Ms. Skrimshaw its believable how their caution and fear turns to anger and violence. Though the story does have its fair share of tension, it's balanced with lighthearted humor that keeps it from being too dark. One of the funniest moments comes when Ana and Emily, in an attempt to go undercover, make a Patrick costume out of cardboard, dowels, and toilet paper rolls and manage to fool everyone—even Patrick.
Renier's art dances comfortably along the thin line between busy and cluttered, with the characters drawn in an open, clean style, and the backgrounds full of complicated, amusing details. Each of the probably hundred supporting characters is distinct and individual, taking the reader completely into a world where animals live and work and play together.
Spiral-Bound is one of those gems of literature that captures the magical innocence of childhood, without being condescending to its characters or its readers. That makes this a book that can truly be enjoyed and treasured by readers of any age.