Title: Spielplatz (Playground)

Author/Illustrator: Mies Van Hout

Age Group: 4-7

Synopsis: This maze of pages takes the reader on page after page of adventure in hopes of finally finding the playground.

The Low Down:

To say that the playground is considered a magical place in our home, is an understatement. Whenever we suggest going, Bug’s eyes light up. And it is a great spot, we meet up with friends there, make new friends, and discover all sorts of wonderful treasures. But what I love about Mies Van Hout’s book, Spielplatz (or Playground if you’re reading the English version), is that it describes the amazing adventures that can be found anywhere. With amazingly colorful illustrations and expressively wonderful characters, this is a book I cannot wait for Bug to grow into.The story is simple from the beginning. The characters are looking for the playground and to get there they must pass through a myriad of obstacles to reach their prize. A Holy Grail quest for kids. But through each trial the boy, girl, and cat with a cowboy hat seem to pick up a new companion. By the end of the book the party has swelled to include a crocodile, a score of ants, some penguins, a buck, and a strange sort of crab/octopus monster, among others. This delightfully cheerful group is met with grim disappointment when they find themselves faced with a black and white playground consisting only of a swing and a bouncy duck. The band shrugs their shoulders and decides to go back the way they came.Each page of Spielplatz has two similar features: a play button on the beginning of the left page and a play button on the end of the right page. The reader is then challenged to lead the children and their collective friends through the page’s maze-like setting. Van Hout drapes each pages with a stunning array of colors that almost jump out of the book. The illustrations are a blend of watercolors that do anything but blend into the pastels. The reader is instead plunged into what seems to be a watery rainbow of vibrancy. Of the three characters present throughout the entire book, the girl and the boy are generically childlike in their continuous enthusiasm but the cat (by far my favorite) maintains a dry cynicism all-the-while hopping from cloud to cloud or sliding down a grassy green hill. The other characters the join the party each contains their own charm. Bug particularly enjoys the buck-tooth monster that awkward lopes about on his tentacles. Van Hout rounds out the story with settings so full of imagination and creativity that their risk bursting. So almost Seuss-like in their total originality, these are places that allow children not only to practice the logical skills tied to figuring out a maze but to embrace their imagination as they absorb the underlying stories just waiting to be explored on each page.

Bug still doesn’t really understand the idea and execution of mazes. That’s ok, I don’t really expect him to at this age and he doesn’t really need that skill to enjoy Spielplatz. Just reading through the books and watching me trail my fingers through the mazes and therefore adventures is entertaining enough for him. And the underlying message of the story is something that can truly resonate with us all. Sometimes the idea of marvelous is great, but the friends and experiences along the way can be just as fabulous.

Story Tips:

  1. Guess to see which friend will join you on the next page.
  2. If your little one is too young for mazes, no worries. Just treat it as a story.

I need more!

Check out our review on Heute bin ich for more about the ever amazing Mies Van Hout.

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