Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
on July 9, 2004
Chris Van Allsburg used to be my favorite picture book artist, and in many ways he remains so to this day. And it's books like, "Jumanji" that remind me why I love his work as strongly as I do. For some reason, Van Allsburg's picture books are so popular and so evocative that they are continually adapted into full screen motion pictures. "Polar Express" has just been turned into a computer animated extravaganza, and "Jumanji" was a Robin Williams vehicle once. Just the same, nothing compares to the original tale. Using his uber-realistic illustrations to highlight how incredibly bizarre the storyline is, this book is fully worthy of the 1982 Caldecott Medal it was awarded.
Peter and Judy have been left home alone by their opera going parents and boy are they boredy bored bored. After playing with their toys and making a mess they decide to take a run to the park. Once there, they discover an abandoned board game called Jumanji sitting beneath a tree. On a note taped to the bottom of the box read the words, "Free game, fun for some but not for all. P.S. Read instructions carefully". The kids don't know what to expect but they take the game with them anyway. After reading the instructions they find that once a person begins Jumanji they cannot stop until someone has won the game. The first roll of the die leads to a space that reads, "Lion attacks, move back two spaces". Suddenly there's a real live lion in the room, and it's regarding Peter hungrily. The kids realize, to their horror, that whatever happens on the board happens in real life. If they want to finish the game (and remain alive) they're going to have to continue.
The book really plays on the old idea of "when the parents are out the kids will get up to all kinds of unwitting mischief". There's a lot in this story that's similar to "The Cat in the Hat". Two bored kids. The magical entity that destroys their home but (undeniably) occupies their time. Getting everything cleaned up before mom and dad walk in the door. You get the idea. The story is surreal and skirts the edges of the disturbing. With illustrations created with Conte dust and Conte pencils, Van Allsburg makes the pictures especially realistic. You can make out every strand on Peter's head or observe the rubber bands holding together Judy's braids. As a child, I was always fascinated with realistic images of fantastical situations. Van Allsburg fits this bill perfectly.
"Jumanji" was later given a sequel of sorts entitled, "Zathura". I haven't read it myself, but I think my loyalties will always lie with the original. There's something about Van Allsburg's clean lines and startled expressions that really chill the reader to the bone. If you have a child that likes to be ever so slightly freaked out from time to time, I can't think of any picture book artist that does a better job of this than the master of the pencil drawing: Chris Van Allsburg. And "Jumanji" is his masterpiece.