Title: Triangle
Author: Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
RRP: $24.99

Triangle decides to visit Square to play a trick on him. When he pretends to be a snake, Square is scared, but when Triangle starts to laugh he gives himself away. Square chases Triangle home where he plays his own joke, but was this what he had planned all along?

Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett have teamed up again to produce another brilliant picture book. Barnett’s dry humour in the verbal text matches brilliantly with Jon Klassen’s illustrations of stenciled watercolour shapes, both linear and free-form, with the odd splatter to add depth to the two dimensional characters. The front angle viewpoint is used throughout the book, adding to this two dimensional perspective. Dark, warm colours are used, changing according to the mood of the story. For example, when Triangle travels through the place where there “were shapes with no names”, the atmosphere is dark. Direction is a strong picture book code used as Triangle moves left to right across the double page spreads on his way to Square’s house to play his “sneaky trick”, and then right to left when Square runs after Triangle. All the while their eyes are in the direction of movement, indicating not only direction but also perhaps their personalities. Texture plays a part in the portrayal of the story, but shape is perhaps the most important picture book code of all. Shape rings out throughout, from the title of the book and character’s names to the illustrations made of shapes. The physical shape of the book is a square with a board book type cardboard cover reminiscent of a block. The designers have not stopped here however. The publication details are in the shape of a triangle on the page opposite the inside front cover. This inside front cover is the first time we see the title in words. The light aqua colour of the end papers is repeated every now and then throughout the book in the triangle and square shapes of the environment.

The non-traditional use of plot, characters and setting make this an authentic picture book with postmodern tendencies. Self-referentiality is present, with the text drawing attention to itself as a text in the peritextual features. As discussed above, this includes the publication information shaped as a triangle, the physical book in the shape of a square, with a hard board book cover to appear as a block. The two dominant shapes, triangles and squares, are not only repeated in the visual text, but are also the characters. The last sentence addresses the reader, drawing them into the narrative.

I am a huge fan of Jon Klassen Mac Barnett’s collaborative work. I love Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and Extra Yarn, and have shared them with many adults and young readers alike. For a taste of their collaborative humour, check out the book trailer the two creators made for Sam and Dave Dig a Hole below.

I look forward to more collaborations from these two, one of which is The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse, due to be released in October 2017.

Many thanks to Walker Books Australia for supplying this book for review.

Activity Suggestions

Before reading discussion:

  • Front cover
    • What do you think this book might be about?
    • What is the shape on the front cover?
    • Is there a title written there?
    • What is the shape of the book?
  • Spine
    • Look at the spine. What is the title?
    • How are the letters arranged?
  • Back cover
    • Look at the back of the book.
    • Introduce the concept of book blurbs to young readers.
    • What does the back of the book tell you about the story?
  • Look at the inside front cover and publication details, discuss.

During reading discussion:

  • Follow the direction of the characters’ movement left to right, then right to left.
  • Discuss the question posed on last page.

After reading:

  • Paint a picture using two shapes. Choose your shapes and use stencil printing with paints.
  • Talk about tricks you have played on friends, or friends have played on you.
  • This is a book about friendship. Write your own story about you and a friend playing together, or draw a picture.
  • Go outside and see what shapes your can see in your environment.