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April Discussion – A-ha to Zig Zag by Maira Kalman

ahhaA-ha to Zig Zag by Maira Kalman was a very different style of book from last month’s picture book. The renowned designer Maira Kalman, from the design company M and Co, has selected 31 of her favourite objects from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum to convey her message that “Everything is design”. Many of the bookclub members were a little confused with this book when they first opened it, especially those who had not known anything about the purpose behind the book. Once readers understood the significance of the choice of items it made a lot more sense; particularly once the reader gets to the last pages and sees the catalogue of the original items.

This really is a beautiful, whimsical book that does not follow the “regular” structure of an alphabet book. The placement of the word of the alphabet sometimes at the beginning, sometimes at the middle, or often at the end of the word, was an interesting technique to show the use of the alphabet. Some items on one page are linked to others on previous pages and this makes for a challenging reading experience of going back and forth between the pages. Some members had used it with their year 3s and said it opened up some wonderful opportunities for discussion. They talked with their students about the fact that even the most basic items and utensils such as forks, spoons, chairs and toilets are constantly being refined and redesigned. It also gave them the chance to discuss concepts such as beauty and aesthetics over form and function – can or should an everyday item be useful and beautiful? It also stimulated discussion about the various careers involved in crafting and making products – artists, designers, wood, glass, china and metal workers, engineers and curators. The catalogue at the end also provided a stimulating talking point of comparing the artist’s illustration of the object with the photograph of the object.

The book also suggested the activity of designing your own museum based around the principles of designs – look around the home or classroom – what would you put in your own museum? We thought it would be a great idea to follow the suggestion in the back of the book and send your ideas to the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Museum.

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