Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Square Book Poster Image
Is Square a genius artist? In funny story, Circle thinks so!

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shapes: Square and Circle. Concept of sculpture and making art. "A sculptor shapes blocks into art." Some new vocabulary: rubble, beguiling,

Positive Messages

Shapes are fun, and you can tell the difference between them. You can find art and shapes and forms that are pleasing to the eye anywhere. Friends can try to please and make things for each other.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Square is a hard worker, who moves blocks from his cave outside every day. When Circle thinks he's created art and asks for a sculpture of herself, he tries to oblige her. Circle has an eye for and appreciates sculptural form. Circle freely gives compliments to her friend.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Square is by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, veteran collaborators who scored Caldecott Honors for their books Sam & Dave Dig a Hole and Extra Yarn. Square is the second book in their shape trilogy, following Triangle, in which Triangle played a series of almost-mean pranks on Square. In this one, the relationships are a bit less barbed, though the humor's just as offbeat and oddball, with Circle mistaking Square's pile of blocks for a "genius" sculpture. With the anthropomorphic shapes taking center stage, kids have a fun and engaging way to learn their shapes and cement their concepts of triangle, square, and circle. Can we assume that the third book in the trilogy will be Circle? Hard to assume anything with funny guys Barnett and Klassen calling the shots, but we can always hope.

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What's the story?

SQUARE lugs big blocks every day from inside his secret cave and sets them outside. "This is his work." When Circle happens by, she mistakes one of the blocks for a sculpture of Square, tells him he's a genius, and requests a sculpture of herself. Square tries to set the record straight, but she hurries off. So Square tries his best to shape the block into a circle, but succeeds only in turning it into rubble. A chance rain creates a pool inside the circle of rubble, and when Circle comes back, she sees her reflection -- which she proclaims perfect, again pronouncing him a genius. The book ends on the question, "But was he really?"

Is it any good?

Any Mac Barnett-Jon Klassen picture book collaboration is bound to include wry humor and a measure of adult sophistication, and this one's fun for kids as well. Square reintroduces the character of Square, whom we met in the previous book, taunted by Triangle. Here, he's baffled by Circle, who has an artist's eye and appreciation for sculptural form he doesn't quite share. Barnett imbues the characterizations with humor -- sophisticated Circle, so sure of her artistic assessments, and Square, who's, well, square -- hapless and insecure. Kids can enjoy and relate to his self-doubt, as well as the classic miscommunication between friends.

Klassen's art also provides plenty of humor. When Square drops over in exhaustion, his tiny stick legs protrude straight out from his square form. And after he labors in the downpour, a twig dangles comically off his head. The book's square shape and hard cardboard cover give it a board-book feel, and it dutifully teaches a preschool concept, shapes. But the inside paper pages have text and art that introduce sophisticated questions: What is art? Is it always intentional? Can we see art and beauty in accidental, everyday forms? And what do you do when your friend mistakes you for a genius?

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the miscommunication in Square. Have you and your friends ever misunderstood each other? What happened? How did you clear things up?

  • What parts of the book do you think are funny? In the art? In the story? Did you any parts sad or upsetting? How do you think Square felt throughout?

  • What do you think about the "art" Square made? Do you think it's art, like Circle does? When you create art, do you always do it on purpose, or is it sometimes accidental?

Book details

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For kids who love art and picture books

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