Though Caldecott medal darlings Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s third collaboration (the first in a planned trilogy) gives initial signs of being an earnest tale about embracing difference, it soon reveals itself to be a minimalist masterpiece about the importance of improvisation and going with the flow.
Triangle lives in a largely monochromatic, triangular world. His home is a pyramid with a triangular doorway, its only nod to polygonal diversity the rectangular frame surrounding the sole picture on the wall. The latter depicts a black triangle on a white background – the image could be a child, a grandparent, a distant ancestor, or a random feature from the uniformly triangular landscape that greets Triangle whenever he steps outside.
Square, Triangle’s friend, lives some distance away in a similarly self-reflective landscape (arguably more so, since the square-framed picture on his wall is of a square). The book’s action begins when Triangle decides to travel the no-man’s land, full of “shapes with no names,” between the two houses so he can play “a sneaky trick” on Square.
Knowing Square’s greatest fear is snakes – unsurprising, given their squiggly shapelessness – Triangle stands outside Square’s door and begins hissing loudly. Square is predictably terrified, the ruse ending only when Triangle’s uncontrolled laughter gives him away.
An annoyed Square chases Triangle back to his home in triangle-land, where he encounters an unexpected problem. It seems the saying about square pegs applies to triangular holes as well. Triangle gets yet another laugh at Square’s expense until it dawns on him that, by blocking his door, Square has produced Triangle’s own worst fear: darkness. “I know you are afraid of the dark. Now I have played a sneaky trick on you! You see, Triangle, this was my plan all along,” Square announces triumphantly. The story ends with a simple, but loaded question: “But do you really believe him?”
Future lawyers can enjoy the debate around intentionality; the rest of us can revel in Square and his authors’ ability to think outside the box.