A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Beautifully written, Kaleidoscope features recurring images and literary themes: ships and voyages, ill-fated and otherwise; keys; gardens; Egyptian sphinxes and mummies; butterflies, from metamorphosis to migration; an apple, including the one in the Garden of Eden; caves and secret passages. It also slips in sometimes subtle allusions to David Bowie (his band The Spiders From Mars), the story of the Arthurian knight Percival, Greek mythology, and more.
Kaleidoscope has a strong theme of love, loss, and grief, but leaves it to the reader to put the pieces together and decide what happened and what it all means. Some of the tales involve the idea of taking all the bad things that happen to you and making something good and beautiful from them.
Positive Role Models
Two people, one of whom is named James, love each other with life-changing intensity, lose each other, and grieve, yet somehow their connection endures. In one of the tales they steal a ship for a magical adventure from which only one returns; in another they sneak off on a trip one of their parents would never allow.
Violence & Scariness
Somewhere along the line, two people who deeply loved each other lost each other, as one of them died, though it's never clear what "really" happened. Along the way, 19th century explorers die when their ship is trapped in the ice. A giant befriends a boy in one tale and we're told he accidentally kills the boy later; in another, we're told of a heartbroken giant who dies and his body becomes an island. Caves, mysterious gardens, and dark houses are explored;
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Tween boys hold hands in various stories, often with magical, life-changing effect.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Kaleidoscope is a dense, gorgeous, emotionally intense illustrated novel, by Brian Selznick (Wonderstruck, The Invention of Hugo Cabret), that follows the far-reaching, mythic journey of a 13-year-old boy and his friend. As the title suggests, it's a loosely arranged, often dreamlike series of fragments that rearrange the same elements -- butterflies; apples; keys; ships; books; two boys with an instant, uncanny connection that's severed, or maybe not, when one dies -- in different, short stories. It's left to readers to feel, think, and decide for themselves what happened and what it all means. As the author explains in an afterword, it came about when the pandemic found him and his husband stuck on opposite coasts for months on end, which caused him to tear up the story he'd been working on and make something new of the bits. That process, of taking the trauma in your life and making something transformative and beautiful from it, becomes a strong theme.
Is It Any Good?
Brian Selznick rearranges story elements to haunting effect in this collection of loosely related, illustrated fragments, left to the reader to weave together into their own story. Like its namesake, Kaleidoscope invites endless return visits and contemplations from new perspectives.Two boys with a near-cosmic connection, dark passages, sphinxes, knights, butterflies and more all turn up frequently in this collection of short tales steeped in overwhelming images of love, beauty, grief, loss, and transformation.
"I wonder if any of it was real. Could I have truly seen a cathedral tremble or a painting of an angel breathe? Could I have been lost inside a labyrinth? Was I really once a bird?
"Whenever the questions keep me up at night, I hear James whisper in my ear. He says, 'Yes,' and 'Yes,' and 'Yes,' and 'Yes.'"
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.