Cosy Classics – Les Misérables and War & Peace by Jack & Holman Wang
In the latest two volumes of their Cozy Classics series, in which classic novels are re-imagined as pre-school board books, twin brothers Jack and Holman Wang have stretched their formula to its logical limit, reducing War & Peace and Les Misérables – totalling more than a million words between them in the original – to just 12 words apiece.
Reading the books however, you quickly realise that “reducing” is entirely the wrong word for what’s going on. With each word forming part of a double page spread opposite an image of a character or scene that together prove just as immersive and expressive as a page of printed text, “concentrating” is more apt.
Even with such limited room to manoeuvre, the authors’ choice of words works surprisingly well and gives a definite narrative arc to the books: here’s War & Peace – “soldier, friends, girl, dance, goodbye, hug, horse, boom!, hurt, sleep, snow, love”. Having even such a skeletal plot in a board book (which usually just offers a list of objects and pictures) will be a relief for parents and give children a perfect introduction, not just to the classics, but to storytelling in general.
The pictures themselves are stunning needle-felted renditions of specific scenes from the story, as instantly recognisable to bookish grown-ups as they are comprehensible to tots, and have already been exhibited in a gallery in Italy with a Japanese tour scheduled for later this year.
While at first the books might appear to be literary novelties, more a passing joke for adults than a book that children would actually enjoy, the most surprising thing about them is that the concept doesn’t run out of steam after the first reading. Like all great children’s book series, they make you want to read on. The Wangs have already tackled Pride & Prejudice and Moby Dick, with Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist lined up for the autumn, and it’s a testament to their skill and innovation that it is genuinely exciting to see where they go next.
The Cosy Classics series is published by Simply Read Books at the board book price of $9.95 (US). For further information, visit here.