Book: Spectacles

Ellen Raskin

This is an old picture book (mine was chewed on at some point, probably twenty years ago since I don’t ever remember it in a non-chewed up state), but it is still entirely adorable and wonderfully amusing. It follows the story of a little girl who finds out that she needs glasses after reporting to her mother and teacher that she sees some truly extraordinary things (like a dragon and a giant caterpillar). She absolutely doesn’t want glasses, but ends up deciding they are ok.

There are two things that I think make this book remarkable and worth writing about. The first is the illustrations themselves. Each two-page spread has the little girl and either what she sees or what is really there, and we always see both over the course of four pages. What she sees are wonderful, but slightly fuzzy and monochrome, images. What is really there is always an interesting and creative collection of people and objects that could make the image the girl sees if you didn’t have glasses (and really needed them). Thus, and image of Santa Claus with escalators in the background on one page is a fat kangaroo on another! The pictures always line up completely, which makes them so much fun to look at. A tiny kitten on a couch becomes a giant bulldog! There is so much creativity and skill that must have gone into the creation of these images (especially since she couldn’t have just made the “real” image and played with it in a computer to make the “vision” image).

The second wonderful thing about the book is the layout. As I said before, it’s all about four-page units made up of two two-page spreads. There is no more than a line or two of text on any given left-hand page and each small bit of text is accompanied on that page with a simple black line drawing of the little girl and sometimes the person she is telling her vision to. The right hand page always contains the coloured image. For the first part of the book (before she gets glasses), the first image in a pair is always what the girl sees and the second image is what is really there. After she gets glasses, that flips (showing she sees reality, but can still take off the glasses for some fun fantasy images). It is a very structured layout, but a very effective one. I’m really impressed with it.

I think that part of why this book has remained a favourite of mine for most of my life is the implicit idea in it that magic exists everywhere, if you know how to look at it. How cool is that? And as a kid who needed glasses for the vast majority of my life, I was always privy to that world. I loved taking off my glasses and looking for dragons and lions and Christmas trees in my living room! It’s just such a fun idea!

This is a wonderful book. It’s probably a little hard to find these days (I don’t think it’s in print), but it is well worth it! This is a fun book that really does remain magical for every reading!

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