May 9, 2022

Curiosity and Creativity are PHANTASMAGORICAL!


KIdsCanPress, May, 2022
I'm so excited to help spread the news about author BETH ANDERSON'S latest picture book release, FRANZ'S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE, brilliantly illustrated by Caroline Hamel. The title choice (PHANTASMAGORICAL) is one of those words kids love, combining parts of other happily exciting words, and that is a fine reflection of Franz and his mission. His early childhood  curiosity, intrepid tinkering, and innovative pursuit of both discarded materials and a glorious goal succeeded in inspiring and entertaining.

That, dear readers, is what his "world machine" was meant to do: Spark awe, curiosity, analysis, joy, and sheer amazement. And that is just what Anderson's and Hamel's production of this book has accomplished, too. 

Born in 1910 in rural Austria, Franz could have lived a valuable but conventional life, unnoticed by others beyond his village or lifetime. But Franz was a curious tinkerer and inventor, dismissed (and disapproved of) by others for his time-wasting, dilly-dallying, and what they believed was general foolishness. Depicted in a colorful and comic style, Franz is shown to fulfill his obligations (quitting school, helping on the family farm, and eventually taking over full management with his wife) but each spot illustration reinforces that "whisper" of imaginative inventiveness that Anderson so effectively reveals in the ear-friendly text. 

Kids will identify with this "daydreamy" drive to pursue their imaginations while adult readers might be predicting that, in the end, Franz will design a remarkable device that will make farm work easier, safer, faster, more economical, etc. After all, that's the American way, right? Franz came from a similar Europe-centric work ethic, right? And Franz was bred of hardy, productive stock, right? 

It's not a spoiler to suggest that kids will see the truth of Franz's purposes and lifelong effort more easily than will adults. There's plenty of village supporters for such an attitude, eager to see just what he labors on in his workshop without windows, wondering what he might produce. There are also surprises along that way that could easily steer him off his course. but does that sound like the Franz I've hinted at here? it certainly won't, once you begin reading about that persistent whisper, his repeated trips to dumps and other discard collection sites. He was a man of his times in making the most of used objects, but followed a diverging road when using them  in unexpected places, for unexplained purposes. 

Kids will note some small repeated images within his daydreaming, whispering thought bubbles, which will come in handy in the back matter challenges, including a hidden picture puzzle. The author note, Franz facts, resources, and more will captivate thinker-tinkerers and have kids begging for a trip to see the actual science/art sculpture that initially sparked Anderson to write and share this story. 

When my now-fully-adult nephew would assemble various blocks and other dimensional-semi-functional-but-for-what sculptures, they sometimes resembled recognizable structures but other times were simply something to "take in", to admire and appreciate, to examine closely. Names and purposes had no place in those inventive and individual results. Such was the case with Franz, with the eventual audience of his day, and with those who still visit and view the exhibit of his lifetime creation in Austria. Eyes pop. Jaws drop. Whispers race through brains.

Few references were available to Anderson. Certainly, no other picture books about Franz were available, and what she found for adults were almost exclusively written in German. Yet persevere she did. And Franz would have been proud of her, since her efforts were as creative, entertaining, and fascinating as the man himself. Imagination and tinkering and designs that are meant to inspire awe, entertain, and invite whispering curiosity are too few and far between, but well worth it to find them. 

Find this book, and encourage a kid you know to chase dreams and imagination and whispers.

I'm delighted to report that Beth has agreed to an interview here in a few weeks. in the meantime, celebrate someone's birthday, or a teacher, or thank a librarian by buying and gifting this book. If a little whisper urges you to read it before wrapping, don't ignore that inner voice!

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