Let the games begin
Chris Van Allsburg is a kid's writer for grownups: He tells stories that light the fire of wonder in children, while at the same time kindling memories in their parents. Winner of two Caldecott Medals, Van Allsburg is the author of the Christmas classic The Polar Express. His tales of a mysterious board game gone awry, Jumanji, and now Zathura, evoke the remoteness of parents to their children, the rivalry between siblings, and the heroes and horrors of childhood. Amazingly, Van Allsburg tells his tales on levels that both grownups and young readers will understand.
Jumanji was the story of a game found in a park by a brother and sister, and the fantastic events that occurred when they played that game. The book ended as they hurriedly returned the game to the park where they found it, only to see the children of some friends of their parents who "never read instructions" making off with it.
Zathura picks up where Van Allsburg left off 20 years ago. Two brothers, Walter and Danny Budwing, find the game and take it home. Unlike the previous players, the pair think the game looks boring, but before putting it away, they find another game board in the bottom of the box, a game called "Zathura" that's all about space. Readers of Jumanji are already saying "uh-oh," so we won't go into any more detail, but suffice it to say that the two boys are in for more than they anticipated.
As an artist, Chris Van Allsburg has a breathtaking command of perspective and light. His black and white drawings have exquisite detail, yet they are somehow generic. In his generics, though, he's hearkening back to the childhood of the adults reading this story to their own children: there's Walter's hat, a picture on the wall of a baseballnot a basketballplayer; and who names their kid Walter these days, anyway? There is a difference in artistic styles between the two game books. Jumanji had a charcoal-like texture to its illustrations, while Van Allsburg's latest effort has a finely wrought stippling effect that's almost linear in its feel.
Zathura has all the right elementsa great story, wonderful illustrations and a sense of whimsy. Will Van Allburg rack up a third Caldecott? Only timeand spacewill tell.