Dazzle Ships

Chris Barton (Author) Victo Ngai (Illustrator)


A visually stunning look at innovative and eye-popping measures used to protect ships during World War I.
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.
Author Chris Barton and illustrator Victo Ngai vividly bring to life this little-known story of how the unlikely and the improbable became just plain dazzling.

-- "Journal"

Product Details

$19.99  $18.39
Millbrook Press (Tm)
Publish Date
September 01, 2017
9.5 X 0.4 X 11.3 inches | 0.95 pounds
Library Binding
BISAC Categories:

Earn by promoting books

Earn money by sharing your favorite books through our Affiliate program.

Become an affiliate

About the Author

Chris Bartonis the acclaimed author of SHARK VS. TRAIN (Little, Brown), FALSE IDENTITIES (Dial), and THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS (Charlesbridge), both of which received three starred reviews and made three major publishing best-of-the-year lists plus receiving many additional notices; in addition, SHARK VS. TRAIN was a NYT bestseller and THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS received a Sibert Honor. Chris lives in Austin, TX. Find him on the web at www.chrisbarton.info Joey Joe-bot Spiottois an illustrator from southern California. Joe has worked on film and video-game projects with Warner Bros., Electronic Arts, Telltale Games, Gazillion, and many more. His tee-shirts sell on Teefury.com, and his work is shown t the high-profile Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles, CA. Visit him online at www.jo3bot.com/

Victo Ngai is a Los Angeles-based illustrator from Hong Kong. Victo is neither a boy nor a typo, but a nickname derived from Victoria--a leftover from the British colonization.

Ngai's work has appeared in books, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, and animations. Among her many clients are The New York Times, The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, General Electric, Lufthansa, Johnnie Walker, Apple, IMAX, MTA Art and Design, McDonald's, and Tor Forge.

Ngai has received numerous honors, including Forbes 30 Under 30, The Society of News Design, The Society of Publications Designers, Communication Arts, Spectrum Fantastic, and the Society of Illustrators of New York. She's a current nominee for the Hugo, Locus, and Chesley awards.


"During World War I, the British were in danger of starving because so many German U-boats were sinking American and British supply ships. Eventually, Norman Wilkinson, a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve lieutenant-commander, had the idea to paint boats in such a manner as to confuse the German submarine captains, and the concept of 'dazzle ships' was born. Barton chronicles the creation and implementation of the strategy, including the team of women artists who designed the patterns and the laborers who painted the ships. Readers learn that the wild, striped designs fooled the U-boat captains into thinking the Allies' ships were headed in opposite directions, thus leading to confusion and failed offenses for the Germans. The well-written, intriguing text is complemented by Ngai's vibrant and surreal illustrations that skillfully recreate the glittering water and the striking camouflaged vessels. Students will appreciate the information, while taking in the amazing artwork. More material is provided by author's and illustrator's notes at the end. In addition to the back matter, photographs of Wilkinson and one of the dazzle ships are also included. VERDICT With the commemoration of the centenary of World War I, this book is a fascinating selection that will captivate readers, especially war story enthusiasts."--School Library Journal


"During World War I, British and American ships were painted in ways meant to deceive German U-boat crews. Submarine attacks were becoming a problem, and the British and Americans needed a plan to save their ships. Norman Wilkinson of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve came up with a new idea: camouflage. Obviously, they couldn't make the ships invisible, but maybe they could paint them in a way that would confuse submarine officers and make it difficult to determine which way a ship was heading and how fast--important since torpedoes were fired not at the ship but at the spot where the ship would soon be. In 1917, ships were 'dazzle-painted, ' or painted in 'crazy' designs meant to confuse. Ngai uses analog and digital media to great effect, from the dazzling cover (which will attract many readers all by itself) to the range of designs employed, applying an appropriate period aesthetic throughout. Readers, however, may not quite see the genius, since, in most illustrations, it's pretty clear which direction the ships are heading, and the perspective from German periscopes is lacking. And, by war's end, the Royal Navy couldn't prove that dazzle had spared any ships, which may sink enthusiasm for the story. Still, it's a fascinating volume about a little-known side of the war. An eye-catching title sure to dazzle."--Kirkus Reviews


"'One of the ships on this page is painted in sneaky, stripy camouflage. You probably can't even see it. Oh. You can see it? Hmmmmmmm.'

"The striped ship, depicted in bright blues and yellows, is a World War I Allied vessel. In 1917, the Central Powers began attacking Allied non-fighting ships; the plan was to cut off Britain and win the war by starving the island nation. Desperate to feed its people, Britain tried 'different things to stop the submarine attacks': there was discussion of training seagulls and sea lions and sending swimmers to smash periscopes. Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve lieutenant-commander Norman Wilkinson was the most well-known of those who floated the idea to camouflage ships. He said, 'since it was impossible to paint a ship so that she could not be seen by a submarine, the extreme opposite was the answer--to paint her, not for low visibility, but in such a way as to break up her form and thus confuse a submarine officer as to the course on which she was heading.' And so the 'dazzle ship' was born.

"More than 3,000 U.S. and British ships were painted with the crazy-looking patterns. If the Germans were confused, their U-boats would launch torpedoes in error--the Allies hoped--and valuable resources would be wasted while Allied ships were kept safe. In both Great Britain and the United States, young female artists helped to create the designs, first on wooden models, then on paper and finally painted onto the ships themselves. In the U.S., members of the Women's Reserve Camouflage Corps 'even used dazzle to draw attention to a ship-shaped New York City naval recruiting station.'

"Germany surrendered in November 1918 and the United States declared 'that dazzle kept lots of ships from getting sunk.' But 'Britain wasn't so sure. The Royal Navy couldn't prove that dazzle had actually spared any ships.' Effective or not, it was noted that many sailors felt safer knowing that something had at least been attempted to keep them alive. And the story of dazzle ships is a remarkable one.

"As developed for children by author Chris Barton (Whoosh!), this story shows that 'sometimes desperate times call for dazzling measures'; ingenuity is important, especially in the most trying of times. Paired with Barton's welcoming language and accessible story, Victo Ngai's illustrations sparkle. Using mixed analogue and digital media, she re-creates historical map templates and incorporates her own dazzle, creating overlapping and interconnecting patterns with strong lines and bright colors. Ngai's illustrations are inviting, drawing the reader in and slowing the pace of the narrative, each double-page spread an abundance of color and texture and shape, demanding time and reflection.

"Dazzle Ships shines and shows that 'a willingness to tackle problems by trying the unlikely, the improbable, the seemingly bonkers will always be needed.'

"Shelf Talker: Chris Barton and Victo Ngai's Dazzle Ships gives young readers an introduction to World War I in a clever and colorful way."


"It might seem counterintuitive to paint bold, eye-catching patterns on ships aiming to pass safely through U-boat-infested waters, but as Barton and Ngai's informative picture book demonstrates, that unconventional choice was a daring stroke of genius. During WWI, Britain's warships were routinely targeted by German U-boats, and the Royal Navy was desperate for a way to avoid Germany's attacks. Norman Wilkinson's groundbreaking patterns--not quite camouflage, but painting the ships in a way that makes their movements hard to detect--fooled even the most experienced sailors, and the navy employed cadres of art students to design more dazzles. Ngai's swirling, art nouveau-style illustrations replicate some of the bold shapes and designs on the so-called 'dazzle ships, ' and the soft colors and stylized figures nicely soften the wartime theme and focus attention to the ships. Barton adds plenty of historical context, illuminating other naval defense schemes of the period, as well as the role of women in creating dazzle patterns. An author's note, time line, and photos of the ships round out this inspiring story of creativity."--Booklist


"Dazzling in their own right, newcomer Ngai's illustrations strikingly depict the dazzle ships of WWI, more than 4,000 British and U.S. merchant and warships that were painted with wild colors and patterns. These 'dazzle' designs, explains Barton (88 Instruments), 'were supposed to confuse German submarine crews about the ships' direction and speed' and keep them safer from torpedo fire. Ngai runs with the camouflage theme in energetic scenes that are crisscrossed with geometric and organic patterns and lines: in one spread, the uniform jacket of British naval officer Norman Wilkinson, who proposed the dazzle painting idea, is masked by the curvilinear patterns and hues of the ocean waves in the background. 'Sometimes desperate times call for dazzling measures, ' writes Barton in conclusion, underscoring the importance of creative problem solving. Reflective author and artist notes, a timeline with b&w photographs, and a reading list wrap up a conversational, compelling, and visually arresting story that coincides with the 100th anniversary of its subject."--starred, Publishers Weekly


"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 her 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.