You are a children’s librarian. Your job is simple. People ask you for books. You find books. People ask you for movies. You find movies. It’s all pretty basic, really. You get requests from teachers too, once in a while. “Oh, we’re doing a unit on tadpoles.” “What have you got in the way of circus titles?” And, most dreaded of all, “We’re doing a community workers unit”. In my particular library system, once a year the teachers will ask for books regarding different occupations you might find in the community. Firemen, and police workers, and vets. All that good stuff. Of course, sometimes the kids want books that talk about what their parents do. And if you work in a library located in the heart of New York City, there’s a pretty good chance that that’s gonna mean one very special job: Architects. Now go and name me all the picture book architectural stories you can think of. Go on! I’ll wait here until you’re ready. Thought of a whole bunch? No? Thought of a few? Thought of one? Well, obviously you thought of one since you know what this review was of from the start. Yes, Iggy Peck, Architect, is (as far as my limited experience informs me) one of the very few books out there dealing with a kid who is fated to follow a path of structural bliss.
It was pretty clear right from the start that Iggy Peck wasn’t your normal toddler. No, by age two he’d discovered how to construct towers out of diapers (interesting, if not particularly sanitary). By three he used fruit to create his constructions, and by the time he hit the second grade he was getting more and more creative. That’s when he got into Ms. Greer’s class. Ms. Greer had once suffered an unfortunate incident in a very tall building, and the result is that she felt from there on in that, “all building-lovers were nuts.” Forbidden to build, Iggy’s spirit is crushed. That is, until the day the class is trapped on a small island with little hope of escape. Little hope, that is, until Iggy’s skills prove useful when it comes to escape.
Of course I can already see the wild glint in the eyes of the parents who will hope against hope that by buying this book they will be able to coerce their own little Johnny or Jill into wanting to be an architect someday too. You can’t hardly blame `em, neither. I mean, the combined efforts of author Andrea Beaty and illustrator David Roberts make this particular occupation look remarkably cool. Roberts bears much of the credit for this, I’ll wager. His style appears to be nothing so much as Gerald McBoing Boing meets Frank Lloyd Wright. And I will wager good money that Mr. Roberts has probably flown under your radar until now. At this point in time he was probably best known for his Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story, which gives you a fairly good sense of his tastes and styles. In Iggy Peck, Roberts has channeled the style of the late 50s, early 60s instead. Iggy is a chipper soul with a thick patch of hair that flies straight out from the top of his head like a plane from a landing strip. The women in his life, that being his mother and his teacher Miss Lila Greer, sport some remarkable up-dos of their own. That alongside their natty sweaters, single print dresses, and high-button shoes, gives the book a kind of grounding in the history of American design. Fortunately for us, Roberts has not traveled so far back that he has failed to create a nicely multi-ethnic classroom. And might I say, much of the fun for grown-ups reading this book centers on getting to watch the clothes and shoes of the other kids in Iggy’s class. Hairstyles too.
Roberts makes use of watercolors, pen and ink (on Arches paper, no less), and a whole smattering of graph paper as well. I was initially going to say that he did a lot of mixed media, but on closer inspection I see that this is not the case. Roberts only gives the impression of mixed media (no small feat) and his use of color and form is fabulous. When we see a younger Miss Greer staring down from the ninety-fifth floor of her building (we know it’s the ninety-fifth floor since the elevator says that the elevator is on the 3rd to the 6th power floor), she’s the only bright yellow spot visible against a gray, lifeless landscape. Also, due to the fact that the author is asking Mr. Roberts to construct a suspension bridge out of “boots, tree roots and strings, fruit roll-ups and things”, as well as castles from chalk, bridges out of pancakes, and even chapels from apples, I’d say that he does a pretty good job. Heck, the book even turns the words on the page into wavy smell lines when the plot calls for such a thing. How’s that for dedication?
The story we find here is entirely reliant on liking your protagonist and appreciating his struggle. And you do like Iggy. Iggy’s a pretty cool dude. A little too focused on a single all-consuming passion, maybe, but at least he knows what he likes. Ms. Andrea Beatty offers enough details here to get kids interested in not only Iggy’s trials but that of his young teacher as well. The defining moment in Miss Greer’s life, when she was trapped in an elevator with a French circus troupe, is sufficiently horrific to make anyone understand her dislike of tall buildings. The fact that the book is written in verse is a tough one though. If you’re going to walk that line then you need to be just as careful as possible when it comes to scansion. So it is that lines like this sometimes had to give me pause: ” `We’re trapped here! Oh my! Alas, kids, good-bye!’ / Her eyeballs rolled back in her head. / She dropped to the ground with a vague groaning sound. / (Luckily fainted – not dead).” I mean, you can make it work if you give a brief pause before the word “luckily”, but anyone reading this book aloud is going to have to read it through a couple times before trying it out on the kids.
All that said, it’s a treat. Original and enjoyable and lots of fun to read. And hey, if you want to use it to convince the youth of America that architecture is a fun and interesting occupation, by all means go ahead.
Smell Note: No one on the face of this planet cares about this aside from me, but I felt that it needed to be said. There are some children’s books that due to binding glue, paper quality or what have you, have an odd smell about them. Have you ever noticed this? As a kid I was not fond of those books that would open, only to allow an odd decomposing glue scent to smack me upside the head. Iggy, to my chagrin, has a similar odor of its own. It may only be my own copy (which has been sitting in my sweater drawer until I can give it to my little niece for her birthday or Christmas), but I thought obligated in mention it in any case.
- Hear a special podcast discussing this title on Just One More Book.
- Author Andrea Beaty also just happens to be one of the Three Silly Chicks, a fellow children’s literary blog. Please be so good as to check it out.
- Plus, how many authors get invitations to go to Legoland? Wowzer.