restricted access Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton (review)
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Reviewed by
Barton, Chris Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion; illus. by
Victo Ngai. Millbrook,
2017 38p
ISBN 978-1-5124-1014-3 $19.99
R Gr. 3-5

A German U-boat raises its periscopes, sights a target vessel, and launches a torpedo timed to explode just as the ship crosses its trajectory. It's hard to defend against, and as of early 1917, Britain is in serious trouble; in fact, U-boat decimation of food-carrying merchant ships threatens starvation if the tide doesn't turn. In desperation, odd tactics, such as trained sea lions doing reconnaissance and swimmers smashing periscopes, are suggested. Norman Wilkinson, an officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, comes up with an idea for camouflage—not to paint British ships the color of sea or sky, but to cover them in patterns so distracting, so visually disruptive, that the U-boat won't be able to tell how fast or in which direction its prey is sailing. The technique became known as "dazzle," and by war's end over 1,200 American and 3,000 British ships were designed and painted by a corps of workers, many of them women. "So just how well did dazzle work? Nobody really knows," Barton admits. There's no denying, however, that dazzle boosted morale and makes a heckuva great story. Barton's lively text is matched by Ngai's engrossing artwork, which employs dazzle techniques throughout his inventive spreads. Contrasting colors, unexpected curves, eccentrically layered design elements, and cleverly deployed chiaroscuro walk the line between instructive playfulness and an art deco fever dream. Timeline, author and illustrator notes, and suggestions for further reading are included. EB

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