The Story of Fish & Snail by Deborah Freedman
This is the story of Fish and Snail who were great friends. Every day, Snail would wait for Fish to return with a new story. This time, Fish returned with a great story, one so wonderful that Fish wanted to show Snail instead of tell about it. But Snail doesn’t want to leave the book they are in. Snail wants to stay right there and play kittens instead of pirates. The two start to argue and finally Fish declares that it is THE END and leaves the book. Snail was so sad. This was not the way the story was meant to end. So Snail leans farther outside of the page and sees Fish in a watery book below. Will Snail leave his safe book and dare to tumble down to the other ocean below? Will Fish return with more stories?
Freedman captures a story-within-a-story here with her setting of two characters living not just in one picture book but many. It is the story of two opposite characters who still manage to be friends, most of the time. There is the sedentary Snail who longs for the stories but not the real adventure. Then there is the irrepressible Fish who jumps and leaps literally off of the page. The pair make for a balanced friendship but also one with plenty of room for misunderstanding too. Their conversation and fight are written strongly and honestly.
Freedman’s art is gorgeous. Readers will recognize her as the author and illustrator of Blue Chicken. She uses similar splash effects in her art here. The blues are gorgeously green and filled with light. When Fish swims the bubbles take on a stronger form as Freedman lets the watercolor dapple the page. There is one beautiful image of Snail looking down to the other book that plays with perspective cleverly.
I’ve heard Caldecott rumblings for this one and with its playful yet artistic illustrations, I’d love to see that. In the end though, it’s also a great story about friendship, books and being willing to take risks. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
A Single Pebble by Bonnie Christensen
Mei wished that she could travel to the market with her father, but she had to stay behind and care for their silk worms. So Mei gave her father a jade pebble to take along and give to a child at the end of the Silk Road. Though her father was only traveling part of the road, Mei was sure that her pebble could go all the way to the end. Mei’s father gave the pebble to a traveling monk who was heading further west on the road. The monk in turn gave the pebble and his flute to a young man who was going even farther west. And so the pebble headed west from hand to hand and other objects joined it in a collection from “a girl in the land where the sun rises.” Finally, after many hands and many people had cared for the pebble, it reached the hands of a young pirate who returned home to his family. His son in Italy received that pebble at the same time that Mei got a piece of blue glass that their city in Italy specialized in.
Set in the 9th century, this book pays homage to the various peoples and communities, nationalities and religions along the Silk Road. Readers will get a great sense of the length of this trading route thanks to Christensen’s story that makes it very concrete and connected. The book also celebrates a good story, where the gifts multiply and all because the story surrounding them becomes more and more compelling as the pebble moves farther from home.
Christensen’s art changes throughout the book. The early pages are softened by the watercolor river and hazy trees in the backgrounds. Moving further into the book, the images become more crisp and clear as the desert takes over the story. The softness returns in Italy again with a different light than the one in China. It is all delicately done and evokes both a connection between the two places but also real differences too.
A rousing journey of a book, this story is a celebration of the Silk Road. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.