Sunday, December 18, 2011

Toy Story, Too! Can You See What I See? Toyland Express by Walter Wick

Walter Wick is back, with toys sporting a fresh coat of paint and a jolly toy story to tell.

His just-published Can You See What I See?: Toyland Express: Picture Puzzles to Search and Solve (Scholastic, 2011), Wick provides much more than intriguing search-and-find puzzles to solve. The book is itself a toy story, recalling for young readers the premise of last year's movie, Toy Story III, as we see a wooden toy train, innocent of paint, a jumble of carefully crafted parts in the "Maker's Workshop," as readers are challenged to find "a pencil, a pail, a ball of string..." and other items. The next double-page spread offers a full-page picture of the train being painted, with more picture puzzles to spot, and, as in many of Wick's picture book creations, the "lens" zooms out to show the completed toy train the center of a "Toy Store" show window display, followed by "Happy Birthday Box," in which the boxed set of train, trees, and houses has just been unwrapped at a party.

In subsequent spreads we see the train set up ("All Aboard") and ready to go; traversing a carefully constructed tinker-toy trestle ("Mountain Pass"), and tootling past a fully-furnished doll house, just visible through the little dwelling's windows in "The Passing Train."

But the tale eventually turns wistfully tristful. The following spread shows the train and other toys "Forgotten" in the attic, some broken, all dusty and deserted as only cast-off toys can seem, lit only by a stray dust-mote-filled sunbeam streaming from the garret window. But this is not to be a sad, James Whitcomb Riley "Little Boy Blue" ballad, but a joyous story of toy resurrection, as the toys are sold at a "Yard Sale," and find their reincarnation in a happy "In For Repairs" workshop scene which recalls their beginnings, ending happily with the "Toyland Express," restored and repainted, back on track in a new and welcoming home.

Wick's books are a wonder, with educational activities and aesthetic mixed-media qualities that knock your socks off. Sly wit and humor permeate the work, textually and visually, especially in the partially concealed presence of Wick's iconic little wooden bead man, Seymour, (a bit of delicious wordplay in that name!) to be spotted on each picture page. Walter Wick & Co. is an industry all to itself. Wick, who seems to have found himself an enviable career in which he is allowed to create and to play with delightful toys, can be seen at work in his fabulous workshop here. Great for gifts, a must-have delight, a great entry in this genre.

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