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The Watertower


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Gr 3 Up‘In this "Twilight Zone"-type picture book for older children, the menace lurks behind the innocuous words, and in what the illustrations don't show. The plot is deceptively flat: two boys go swimming in a decrepit watertower. When Bubba is reluctant to return to his heavy-handed mother after he has lost his shorts (apparently blown off the tower), Spike runs back to sneak another pair out to him. Bubba has been afraid of the water, but when Spike returns, his friend is climbing out of the tank and boasting about his swim, which Spike finds "not like Bubba." That's the story. The pictures, in a highly realistic style, show the shabby outback town dominated by the eye-shaped tank at one end and a huge antenna dish at the other. The cryptic symbol printed on the tank, a segmented incomplete circle, appears repeatedly on various objects: caps, machinery, and, in the final frame, on Bubba's hand. Eyes are important: the townsfolk's eyes turn up to the watertower expectantly, and Bubba's eyes are different after that swim. The page layout, oriented longitudinally, shifts again at the critical pages (through a framing device that is part of the puzzle) so that readers unconsciously rotate the book and end by reading it backwards. What mysterious change has occurred? Many debates and a close examination of the words and pictures will inevitably follow any causal reading of this true picture book‘a union in which text and illustrations work inseparably to create a strange but compelling whole.‘Patricia Lothrop-Green, St. George's School, Newport, RI

Crew (First Light) weaves a disquieting tale set in an Australian outback town, where a rusted old watertower seems to be inhabited by a malevolent alien presence. One sweltering afternoon, two buddies named Bubba and Steve, climb the tower for a swim. When Bubba's pants are lost, Steve runs back to town to get him another pair, to avert Bubba's mother's wrath. In the meantime, Bubba takes another dunk and emerges a changed boy (readers never find out why); he now possesses the same crazed, fixed expression that the town's grown-ups wear, and his hand is marked with the watertower logo‘which also appears on baseball caps and elsewhere around town. Crew lets readers draw their own conclusions about these strange events. Unfortunately, despite Woolman's able renderings in acrylic, chalk and pencil, the design‘which shifts between horizontal and vertical orientations‘only underscores the feeling of disorientation raised in the text. This one may well leave even savvy older readers in the dark. Ages 7-14. (Feb.)

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