Black And White
by David Macaulay (Houghton Mifflin, $14.95.)
The other day, a 1st grade teacher, waving a copy of the 1991 Caldecott Medal winner, flagged me down in the library. “This book,” she said, “has me completely baffled!” That’s how I felt, too, on my first dozen readings, as I pored over the four-paneled pages. Then I read it aloud to several 1st through 3rd grade classes, and they unlocked the magic for me. Each of the panels holds a continuing tale, illustrated in a well-chosen style that reflects its mood; the quartet is interconnected, though not by any readily apparent sequence. After showing the title page, which depicts a jailbreak, I read aloud the story titles. I urged the students to look for any connecting threads in the illustrations, and then showed them each page without reading it. The stories involve a boy on a train, a boy and dog playing with a model train, a train station full of newspaper-folding commuters, and a robber camouflaged by Holstein cows. Students grew animated and then frenzied as they spotted dozens of sly visual jokes and coincidences that I had missed. Finally, I returned to the beginning and read each page aloud, top to bottom, and the discussion continued as children found still more connections. I have never seen a book provoke such a response. Listeners discussed the story sequences for days afterward. That the writing is sometimes forced and overly arch is of no importance; the puzzlelike tale of an escaped robber’s real—or imagined—rendezvous with a commuter train is one that will draw your class together.
A version of this article appeared in the September 01, 1991 edition of Teacher