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Pickle Me This

May 28, 2015

What’s Inside? by Isabel Minhós Martins and Madalena Matosa

Now that Harriet is older and learning to read on her own, I have a particular appreciation for picture books that are less text-oriented—their game and puzzle nature reminds us that reading is meant to be fun, they’re fun for us to engage with together, and Harriet is content to explore the pages on her own time. But wordlessness makes the stakes are a bit higher—a book like this has to be really good, excellent in both its art and its premise. And What’s Inside? by Isabel Minhós Martins and Madalena Matosa satisfies certainly on both counts.

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Published in English by Tate Publishing, the publisher of visual art books associated with London’s Tate Gallery, What’s Inside? was created by the Portuguese duo behind several popular books including When I Was Born. On one hand, What’s Inside? is a kind of inverted Kim’s Game in which readers are delivered a pictorial inventory of interesting vessels and spaces—the hall table drawer, Mum’s handbag, the kitchen counter, my bedroom wall—and then asked to answer questions and find specific details about the objects at hand. Many of these questions are answered on subsequent pages, or lost objects found, separated pairs matched, and broken bits pieced back together.

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The questions are great, open-ended, and allow for flights of the imagination (as well as real satisfaction for those who finally locate, for example, just where is Mum’s missing earring after all). What’s really wonderful about the book, however, is how a narrative emerges from all this stuff—we get a sense of who these people are, what are their preoccupations, their quirks and oddities. (Why indeed is there an Ace of Spades in the refrigerator?) Some of the deeper mysteries are never really answered, or at least I have not found the answer to yet, for example to why exactly a wooly hat was brought to the beach—though we have speculated that perhaps the grandmother was knitting it? She had a ball of yarn in her beach bag after all. Perhaps the hat was her finished product? Which is the best thing—how the stories in this story lead us to tell stories of our own.

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Readers will delight in the familiarity of household objects, puzzle at the stranger ones, and perhaps begin to think more deeply about what their own stuff says about them. And for those who manage to eventually make their way to the book’s last page, it isn’t finished yet. “Open Your Eyes and Discover More,” the authors implore us, with a list of questions that urge us to go even deeper.

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