It’s clear to me, after reading Camden artist Chris Van Dusen’s latest “If I Built…” book, that he spent most of his formative years reading Dr. Seuss while watching The Jetsons on a loop. It’s the only way to explain how his books manage to be simultaneously futuristic (in concept) and retro (in their look and sound).

“If I Built a School” is the third in the series (after “…a Car” and “…a House”). Like the other two, it owes a great debt to Seuss’s “If I Ran the Circus” and “If I Ran the Zoo” books:

Cover courtesy of Dial Books

“My school will amaze you. My school will astound.
By far the most fabulous school to be found!
Perfectly planned and impeccably clean.
On a scale, 1 to 10, it’s more like 15!”

But while Seuss largely invented creatures, Van Dusen invents structures. He creates a dream school any child would clamor to attend. A school where history is taught by holograms of Abe Lincoln and dinosaurs, kids sit at hover desks, take field trips to Mars, do phys ed in skydiving wind tunnels or on trampoline basketball courts, play fantastical musical instruments and read pop-up books that don’t pop so much as explode. Readers will get swept into this futuristic world and spend hours studying pages (even the end papers!) crammed with fun and funny details.

As Seussian as his inventive drawings and captivating rhymes and rhythms are, Van Dusen strikes off into new territory with his language. Instead of a “cat in a hat” or a “fox in a box,” we get “genetically modified creatures” in “pneumatic pods” and “submarine bikes” in a “perimeter pool.” Reading specialists might object to the far-above-grade-level sophistication of his language, but I suspect the concept and setting are so engaging that they’ll inspire kids to learn what these new words mean. No one will ever accuse Van Dusen of pandering, and I applaud his editors in letting him push some boundaries in a book recommended for ages 5-8.

There is no one creating children’s books today who is better suited to assume Seuss’s mantle than Van Dusen, with his wild-eyed, overactive and irrepressible child’s imagination. Or as the master himself might say:

His rhymes will amaze you.
His drawings astound.
Van Dusen’s the Seussiest author around!
His books are like nothing that you’ve ever seen.
On a scale, 1-10, he is more like 15!

 

Amy MacDonald is a children’s author and freelance writer. She lives in Falmouth and can be contacted at [email protected]


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