Great Job, Mom! – Holman Wang, Tundra Books, 2019
Great Job, Dad! – Holman Wang, Tundra Books, 2019
Artist and author Holman Wang’s two companion volumes describe the phenomenal talents and brilliant multitasking of an ordinary mom and an ordinary dad. The books are immersive, as readers enter a tiny world of exquisitely crafted felt figures and their accompanying accessories. Here is what the books are not: gimmicky. If you are at all skeptical that 1:6 scale figures produced by needle-felting, a process which the author accurately terms “a painstaking process,” offers a warm and authentic perspective on parenting, read the books! Both books feature a perfect balance of miniature detail and the “big picture” of a child’s sense of security in a super-competent and loving parent.
In a “Behind the Scenes” section at the end of each book, Wang, the creator, along with his twin brother Jack, of the Cozy Classics board books, reveals the process behind his productions. Comparing himself to a film director, he explains how, after having crafted his figures and made or located “pint-sized props,” he builds sets and photographs them, using the cinematic technique of “forced perspective.” The intricacy of this process is reflected in the books’ illustrations, each one a completely realized scene of family life.
Each picture is accompanied by one brief page of text, an expression of gratitude for Mom and Dad’s many talents. “By night he’s our librarian/with stacks of books piled high,” shows Dad with his arms around son and daughter, reading them bedtime stories from the impressive collection in their room. The current selection is The Hockey Sweater, from 1985, Roch Carrier and Sheldon Cohen’s affectionate tribute to Canadian hockey. Other books lying on the quilt and gracing the shelves include The Wizard of Oz, Where the Wild Things Are, and The Book with No Pictures, linking generations and genres. Even the quilt itself, decorated with Russian nesting dolls, is both literary and child-friendly.
Now and then Dad has a tougher job: “He sometimes has to serve as judge/to find who’s in the wrong.” Arms crossed and looking more stern than in the other pictures, Dad has to adjudicate between two kids pointing the finger at one another over who made a mess at the picnic table, while the family dog, like a side figure in a Brueghel painting, goes after a bottle of ketchup and some fallen French fries. Dad is also a chauffeur pushing a stroller, and an architect building a structure out of bridge chairs and a table.
Mom is just as versatile. Her professions include curator of refrigerator artwork, and impromptu actor: “At times she has an actor’s flair–/without a line rehearsed.” What could have been the boring conclusion to a supermarket trip becomes a performance, as Mom turns a shopping bag into a pirate’s hat, a juice bottle into a spyglass, and a baguette into a sword. Her kids are an appreciative audience.
And her journalism skills are not wasted when she captures her little girl’s playtime on a cell phone camera. This mom is active and strong, concentrating with great focus on everything she does. Her search for socks in a laundry basket is as meaningful as an archeologist’s search for artifacts in a cave.
If you have never attempted to turn wool into felt figures, you may not realize that each figure, as Wang explained in a 2016 interview, may require between twenty and forty hours to complete. The posing and photographing of the book’s scenes is an even longer investment in time. On a much more modest scale, if you even try to experiment with the made-for-kids version of this art form as a hobby, with, for example, the wool felting book from the versatile Klutz series, you will realize how committed Wang must feel to this medium as the best way to illustrate the challenges of parenting. Reading these books, which succeed in making a complex process look simple and natural, one can only tell the author, “Great job, Mr. Wang.”