Mister Horizontal & Miss Vertical – a stripey story about genetics

Last year I returned to study – I’ll be chipping away at a degree in genetics over the next decade or so (truly). When I first went back to university, my kids were curious to know what I did “at school” – where do you start explaining the ins and outs of genetics? With a picture book, of course!

Nothing brings the blessings and curses of genetics into sharper focus than having children – how often have you heard parents say things such as “I hope they get your nose, not mine!” or “They inherited their mother’s/father’s athletic/musical/artistic genes”? Of course, our genetic makeup is somewhat of a lottery and we have no control over what genes we do or don’t get. While the genetic basis of physical traits can be literally as easy to see as the nose on your face, the genetic component of personality traits can be more difficult to understand. Nonetheless, debut authors Noémie Révah and Olimpia Zagnoli have managed to do just that with their stylish story, Mister Horizontal & Miss Vertical.

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At first glance, Mister Horizontal & Miss Vertical is a story about opposites attracting. Mister Horizontal loves all things close to the ground (“He likes ants and other insects that march in long lines” and “everything that glides” ). In contrast, Miss Vertical loves dizzying heights and looping through the air (“She collects ladders” and loves “…skyscrapers. She would make a great firefighter or window washer.”).

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The hobbies and personality traits described for Mister Horizontal and Miss Vertical are delightfully eclectic and fitting for their ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ lives. However, the words only tell a small part of this story for it’s Zagnoli’s striking illustrations in primary colours, and crisp black and white that truly sell the message. Mister Horizontal is shown wearing a horizontally striped shirt – his tiny head, long legs and looping arms accentuate the pattern. Miss Vertical wears a vertically-striped, triangular-shaped dress – she also has a tiny head and long legs but her arms stretch way up into the sky.

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The story was inspired by the iconic Rene Maltete photograph in which a father wears horizontal stripes, a mother vertical stripes, and their child sports a checkered shirt. Despite not appearing on the same page together until the very end, observant readers will notice that together, Mister Horizontal’s and Miss Vertical’s bodies create the XO symbol of kisses and hugs and the story concludes with a question “Now what do you think their child will love?” – the perfect ending to a book that is both simple and complex at the same time.

Mister Horizontal & Miss Vertical is suitable for children aged three years and over. Find it online at Fishpond, who deliver free to Australia.

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Katrina Whelen

Katrina studied planning and design, did the hard yards working in a big office building and then traded it all in for a relaxing (!) life at home with four children. She now fills her time with writing, completing a degree in genetics and taxiing her children around Melbourne to their various sporting commitments (not necessarily in that order).

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