3…2…1…Circus and Early Rider
by William Wegman
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
When I was in Library School (that’s what we called it back then) fine-art photographer William Wegman began exploring the world of picture books as a medium for sharing his doctored photographs of his weimaraner dogs. He staged fantabulous vignettes with his dogs acting out famous fairy tales (like Red Riding Hood, pictured, from his book Little Red Riding Hood) or engaged in everyday activities (like harvesting, also pictured, from his book Farm Days). The results were weird and fascinating and beautifully child-centered; while some adults found them creepy, kids were captivated.
Wegman’s children’s literature output has been spottier of late, though experiments with a new style, inserting digital images of the dogs into scribbly, painterly paintings, have produced some recent charmers, including two board books out this month. 3…2…1…Circus! sees the dogs in all manner of circus scenarios, beginning with ten and counting down to a literal, lone puppy blast-off. Early Rider sets the puppies to get about in all manner of transportation, from pogo stick to hot-air balloon, described in rhyming couplets. The production values here are pleasantly rough, with sketchy objects on even sketchier backgrounds, offering a pronounced contrast to the digital clarity of the puppy pics. And Wegman’s ability to interpret the puppies’ playful positions, painting them into cockpits and clown suits, adds lots of dynamic energy.
A successful board book speaks to its infant audience with color, content, and imagery. All too often we see popular picture books reformatted on board pages, to take advantage of some sort of classic status, forgetting that babies have special (literary) appetites. This pair does a great job combining raucous color, meaningful concepts, and adorable puppies into a chewable package just right for babies to devour.
Here are a few book trailers from Wegman’s YouTube channel, because puppies.