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Friday, December 2, 2011

Holiday Book Picks: Search-and-Find Treats from Walter Wick and Joan Steiner

Something Old, Something New: Paired Picture Book Reviews
by Carol Baicker-McKee

This is the first of a new feature on our blog - reviews of picture books that pair up a recently released title with a complementary old favorite or forgotten treasure. I plan to focus on books of visual distinction; Kitty Griffin will target books that stand out for their language and story.

We welcome suggestions for titles in either category!


Can You See What I See? Toyland Express: Picture Puzzles to Search and Solve
BY: Walter Wick
Published by Scholastic, 2011

WHAT'S SO GREAT: This intriguing puzzle book features a dozen beautifully photographed, super-detailed, and richly colorful scenes with lists of objects to find. What makes it stand out even more is the sweet story - the spreads follow the "life" of a toy train from workshop to attic and back to being loved again.

WHO MIGHT ENJOY THIS: The publisher describes the book as for ages 6 and up. The "up" is definitely right; most adults enjoy these puzzles too. But "down" works too: preschoolers might need help narrowing their searches, but in my experience they also really like Walter Wick's books. This book will especially appeal to kids who like detailed artwork and visual puzzles.

FIRST PAGE: Shoot! I forgot to photograph it when I examined this at the bookstore. But you can see the first pages (and others) using the "Look Inside" feature on the Amazon page for this book here. The photo shows a toymaker's shop with the train being built and the rhyming text lists 20 objects to hunt for. Sample:
Can you see what I see?
2 balls, a birdhouse,
a pencil, a pail,
a ball of string,
a long cat tail...

MORE TO KNOW: This is the 8th book in Wick's Can You See What I See? series. Wick is also the co-creator with Jean Marzollo of the classic I Spy series, also from Scholastic. He has an interesting website you can visit here, and there's also a great video about the making of this book you can access by clicking on the link on his website. Wick also has a keen interest in science and illusions - check out his books A Drop of Water and Optical Tricks.

Look-Alikes Christmas
BY: Joan Steiner.
Published by Little, Brown, 2003.

WHAT'S SO GREAT: The book showcases 9 detailed holiday scenes, ranging from Santa's Workshop to department store windows to a toy train beneath the tree. This might just seem like an excellent copycat of Walter Wick's books - except the objects in all of Steiner's books aren't what they seem at first glance. Look more closely and you'll discover in the Nutcracker scene, for instance, that Clara is wearing a badminton birdie, the doors are actually white chocolate candy bars, and the curtains are a woman's long hair, held back by barrettes. The challenge is to identify all the "look-alikes" used to construct the scenes - and they are clever puzzles indeed.

WHO MIGHT ENJOY THIS: No age range listed, but like Wick's book will be enjoyed by 6 and up, with preschoolers getting pleasure sharing it with an older reader. Detail-lovers, puzzle-lovers, and those with a creative bent will especially get a kick out it.

One caveat: several reader reviews on Amazon noted that the outdoor scene includes items they found objectionable (there's a toy skeleton draped with a lacy bra to look like a snow covered mountain). I read this book with several young kids who weren't frightened at all and who found the presence of undergarments hilarious - but be forewarned if you or your kids would see it differently.


MORE TO KNOW: This was one of a series of Look-Alikes books by Steiner, including several Look-Alikes, Jr. books with simplified images aimed at younger kids. Sadly, there will be no more masterpieces from Joan Steiner; the creator died of cancer in September, 2010. You can read interesting obituaries about her here and here. Steiner's studio was once featured in the now defunct Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion Magazine and shows her working on this book.
One more interesting fact: Walter Wick has photographed other Look-Alikes scenes for Steiner.

WHERE YOU MIGHT FIND THIS OLD BOOK: Hooray! It's still in print. New copies are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and there are plenty of used copies floating around too. Most local libraries likely have copies - but they may be well-thumbed.

Other good search-and-find books include the now classic Where's Waldo series by Martin Handsford, and the book about an adventuresome orangutan that some feel inspired Handsford, Where's Wallace by Hilary Knight (the illustrator of the Eloise books), first published in 1964 and republished in paperback in 1991. For toddlers and preschoolers, The Baby's Catalogue and Each Peach, Pear, Plum by the British writer-illustrator couple Janet and Allan Ahlberg offer similar visual delights.


  1. I love this new feature. Very clever.
    These books both look like a lot of fun. My kids used to love illustrations like this that kept them busy and searching. What fun!

  2. So glad you like the new feature! It was lots of fun to write about books I love. I've got ideas for my next reviews, but I do welcome suggestions. Thanks.