July 15, 2013

Mr. Flux

by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Matte Stephens
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
 April 2013

For some, change is a way of life and, for others, it is the traumatic departure from the expected.  Young Martin and the members of his neighbourhood despair when Mr. Flux, an artist who "enjoyed mixing things up," moves in.  When Mr. Flux receives a box labelled "Property of Mr. Flux", he gives it to Martin, telling him that it's full of change.

 He suspected it contained cacophony, disorder and germs.

When Martin expresses his reluctance to experience any change, Mr. Flux explains that everything changes and that it's best to start with little changes.  With carefully chosen samples, Mr. Flux introduces Martin to new things, allowing Martin to share these with others.  In return, he reveals his own art to Mr. Flux.

With the essence of the artist and the spirit of a sensualist, Mr. Flux changes the way his neighbours think about change, allowing them to experience life and art more fully without negating their own choices for change. 

While all readers of picture books may not be interested in the art history or movement of creative thinking associated with Fluxus, based on the premise that the art of life always changes, Kyo Maclear does introduce readers to the idea that art is experiential and malleable, as is life.  Young Martin may not know much about change, though he obviously has an opinion about it, preferring to ride his familiar old bike rather than his new one.  But with a little exposure to new ideas and an open mind (though not wide open!), Martin, his family and neighbours come to appreciate Mr. Flux for the experiences and new truths he has brought into their lives.  And Matte Stephens' gouache illustrations, which have a 1950's feel, emphasize the people and places of an urban neighbourhood predominated by straight lines and polygon-flavoured structures and spikes them with intriguing animal and decorative elements that ameliorate the harshness of single truths. 

Recommended for ages 3-7, Mr. Flux may just be a delightful picture book that helps children see that change can be fun, even if they anticipate it to be traumatic.  Accept Mr. Flux as you feel appropriate.  Just be prepared to accept it as much more once you've enjoyed it for yourself.

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