Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Book Review - Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton and Victo Ngai


During World War I, British and American ships were painted with bold colors and crazy patterns from bow to stern. Why would anyone put such eye-catching designs on ships?

Desperate to protect ships from German torpedo attacks, British lieutenant-commander Norman Wilkinson proposed what became known as dazzle. These stunning patterns and colors were meant to confuse the enemy about a ship's speed and direction. By the end of the war, more than four thousand ships had been painted with these mesmerizing designs.

Best line from the book: "Times change. Technology changes...But a willingness to tackle problems by trying the unlikely, the improbable, the seemingly bonkers will always be needed." 

This just screams for an extension. You could go simply with art and imagination, and give children ship outlines to 'dazzle', or you could go further into graphic design, patterns, and visual illusions. Ask children to come up with some problems and devise crazy solutions for them. Who knows what breakthroughs you may be inspiring?

Be sure to point out that, while Wilkinson and others came up with the general concept, it was a team of women who created the actual designs - not unusual now, but in the era of World War I? That can lead to a discussion of how times of war have actually furthered women's rights in some areas, out of simple necessity. 

Both a fun book and a teaching book, with unusual and vivid illustrations! I would not be surprised to see this appear on a few award lists.

Did I call it, or what? I wrote this post a couple weeks ago, and yesterday this title appeared on the Cybils short list!

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