Swashby spent all of his time on the sea. He loved the sea, and the sea understood him better than anyone else. He lived as close to the sea as he could in a small house. His life was just how he liked it: simple and serene. That is until one day a little girl moved in next door. Swashby shut himself in his house, fed their gift of cookies to the seagulls, and wrote a message in the sand: NO TRESPASSING. But the sea changed it a little, leaving only SING, which the little girl proceeded to do while dancing on Swashby’s deck. The next message is turned into W-ISH, and when the little girl decides to wish on a starfish, Swashby comes out to show her how to do it properly. The next message has her playing on the beach, and Swashby find himself showing her how to make sandcastles that won’t topple. After Swashby again retreated, the water didn’t and soon the sea had pulled the little girl out with it. The choice was clear for Swashby.
This picture book is a stellar marriage of story and illustrations. Ferry offers two great characters here, the solitary seaman and the charming little girl. Oh and one more, the sea herself, who plays such a role in the story with both her support of Swashby and in her meddling with his messages. The text is just the right length, robust enough to create a full story to tell and short enough to read aloud well. The fiddling of the sea is just right, not quite easily guessed by the reader and very cleverly done.
The illustrations are marvelous. Done in acrylics, colored pencil and graphite, they capture the bright seaside where the sea fizzes along the beach. Swashby is pure prickles from his bristly beard to his scratchy sweater. Meanwhile the little girl is colorful and soft. The two together on the page make for a study in contrasts that is sure to please.
Little Crab lives with Very Big Crab in a small tide pool, but now they are off to the ocean! At first Little Crab is very excited. They journey over rocks, across pools, and through seaweed to get there, each with its own special sound. When they reach the edge of the ocean though, Little Crab is overwhelmed and not sure they should continue. There are big waves that hit them over and over again. Little Crab decides it’s time to head home instead, but Very Big Crab continues to encourage Little Crab to try. Step by step, Little Crab enters the ocean until he’s in it! And what an amazing place it is!
Haughton beautifully shows the fear of the new and the way that experiences can feel very overwhelming for children. The use of wave after wave is what doing something new can feel like. The book also clearly demonstrates the importance of continuing forward and trying something new. You may just love it, like Little Crab does. Gentle and powerful, this picture book shows rather than tells, allowing children to find their own way through fear with the help of a couple new friends.
The illustrations are bold and beautiful. They have dark cliffs near the ocean, battered by turquoise water with bright white foam. The greens of the seaweed, purples of the crabs, pop on the page. Then once the ocean is entered, it’s like discovering colors all over again. Remarkable!
Wave away your worries with this wonderful read. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Captain Alfred is heading home with his boat full of ducks for his farm and one special duck egg that’s about to hatch as a present for his wife. But his boat is hit by a storm and everything including the egg is thrown overboard. Luckily, the egg survives the storm, kept afloat in the Captain’s fiddle case. When the duckling hatches from the egg, he is all alone until he spots something else floating in the sea. It’s the Captain’s fiddle and when the duckling hugs it closely it produces a beautiful sound. But how can one little duckling and one fiddle survive the open sea? It will take the magic of music.
Ering is the illustrator of The Tale of Despereaux and has created other picture books of his own. This picture book has a gorgeous tone and pace, each moment shining and special as the story unfolds. Ering allows the story space to speak, giving time to the duckling finding the fiddle, a moment to pause when the duckling reaches land, and many other such moments too. Each is beautifully told with a voice that reads aloud beautifully. It’s a tale that children will enjoy, an adventure of wonder and music.
The illustrations are a wonderful mix of cartoon and lush realistic settings. The duckling has a personality all his own, glowing yellow on the page. Other moments like the storm approaching are filled with nature in all of its beauty and fury. The pages turn and one is never sure if it will reveal a sweep of nature or a new comical moment. The entire book works as a whole, the surprise of page turns, the comic elements and the natural details.
A picture book about music and friendship that is a great pick for a read aloud. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Buckley and his mother live together in a little cabin near the ocean. Buckley loves to explore the beach near their house, collecting driftwood to build little boats. One day he sends a favorite boat out to his father, whom he thinks about often. He decides that if the boat never returns that it means his father received it. The boat doesn’t come back. From then on, on special days, he and his mother send a boat off to his father. Buckley’s boats get better and better. Then on his birthday, Buckley forgets to put the note on his boat that says that it’s for his father and how much he loves him. Buckley heads inside to find paper for the note and discovers that his mother has been collecting all of the boats Buckley has sent to his father. So when Buckley sends his birthday boat out onto the ocean, he’s made one big change.
Bagley’s book grapples with some huge issues like grief and loss but it does so in a way that allows children to approach the situation at their own level. It never forces emotions onto the reader, instead making those emotions much more intense by having characters who internalize much of their grief. The use of boats to send a message is beautiful and moving in itself. The fact that the mother is collecting them, yet allowing her son his own grieving process is also very special.
The artwork in the book is done with pen and watercolor. It offers so much detail, creating a setting that is rich and warm. It suits the story so well, giving the reader a chance to realize on their own that the mother is also sad and grieving in her own way even while supporting her young son and protecting him. The natural setting is awash in watercolors, giving it flow and a luminous quality that lets light shine from the sky and ocean too.
Grief and loss are made beautiful and tangible in this picture book that offers such grace and nurturing. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
The annual spawning of the horseshoe crabs serves as a way to speak about the life cycle of this fascinating creature. As the crabs come to the shore, they ride the high tide to get far enough up on the beach for their eggs to be safest. Following the crabs are the shorebirds who are looking for a feast. Humans are coming too, scientists who study both the crabs and the birds. The horseshoe crabs begin laying their eggs, their bodies piled high at the edge of the shore, all trying to reach the sand to deposit their eggs. The scientists tag the crabs, allowing them a better way to study how these creatures live and where they travel. The eggs that survive the birds feasting start to grow and the adult crabs return to the sea. A few weeks later, the baby crabs hatch and make their way down the sand to the sea too.
Schnell has created a book that celebrates the horseshoe crabs and highlights not only their life cycle but their impact on the larger habitat as well. Tying the human scientific element into the book as well informs young readers that there are interesting natural studies happening all around them. The final pages of the book offer many additional details on the horseshoe crab and how they function in the food system. Readers will also find more resources on the crabs including websites and books to explore.
Marks’ illustrations are beautiful and functional. He shows the wonder of life under the water as well as the gorgeous moonlit night that the crabs come to shore. The mix of underwater, sea and sky create a palette of blue that celebrates life.
A strong nonfiction picture book that highlights a fascinating and unique creature. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
In a fishing village near the sea, there is a small house high in the hills. In that house, there is a kitchen with a warm fire where a pot of noodle soup is simmering. A woman watches and waits, grinding spices in a mortar and pestle while a baby sleeps nearby. Their dog looks down into a hole in the floor and spots a cricket there. The cricket is painting on an easel, creating an image of a stormy sea with large waves. In that sea there is a small boat with a worried fisherman hoping to get out of the storm soon and dreaming of his family in a small house above the sea.
Both the author and illustrator are Vietnamese-Americans. The story was inspired by the author’s father and his ancestral village in Central Vietnam. It is the story of both the men who head onto the sea to fish and the families they leave behind. It is also a story of the cycle of life, of connections to one another. After all, the storm itself is both on the cricket’s easel but also part of the heart of the story too. It’s a book that twists a bit, so that one forgets the origin of the storm and the story, but knows that it echoes with history and truth.
The illustrations are dramatic and gorgeous. They evoke Vietnam with its stunning shoreline. They also capture the danger of the high waves and surging seas, conveying that tension clearly without making it too frightening or intense for young readers. The entire book celebrates the cozy home but also the wildness of nature, dancing from one to the other with ease and creating a strong dichotomy but also connection between the two.
Beautifully illustrated and told, this cyclical story is a journey to Vietnam and a celebration of their way of life. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
In black and white images, a boy walks out his house. With a klang, he emerges and takes steps with a loud bong since he’s wearing a diving suit. Turn the page, put on your 3D glasses, and once the boy enters the water the magic starts to happen. Jim is now exploring. He passes a sunken car and a long pipeline, but soon reaches the open ocean. As the pages turn, the 3D effects are gasp-worthy and so well done. Readers and Jim together are on an amazing journey at sea.
A nearly wordless book, this is true immersion. I’m not usually a fan of books with gimmicks but the 3D is put to such incredible use on the page here that I found myself immediately drawn in. It is so effective that you will find yourself reaching out to touch parts of the image that seem closest and then feel shocked when you touch a flat page. It happened to me time and again.
While this may not be ideal to circulate at libraries since the glasses will quickly be lost, this is a great gift book that is definitely worth exploring. Appropriate for ages 4-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Octopus lives in a bustling reef filled with all sorts of sea life. She watches the activity from her cave and three little seahorses come and visit her. But Octopus just wants to be left alone, so she changes colors to hide and heads away from the reef. As she travels away, the seahorses continue to follow her, watching her change colors and hide until Octopus finally leaves in a cloud of ink. Eventually, Octopus comes to a very quiet part of the ocean where she can be left in peace with only silent jellyfish floating by and the drama of a whale zooming to the surface. Nothing bothers her or watches her, so she falls fast asleep. When she awakens, she starts to think about life in the bustling reef and she returns, ready to play once again.
This is a shining example of a book where the writing and illustrations work seamlessly with one another. The story of an introverted octopus who just needs a little time alone will speak to children who also feel that way at times. Best of all, there is no lesson learned where being alone is dangerous or wrong, instead it is embraced as a time to see other beautiful things and recharge. This is one undersea world where quietness and alone time is just fine, perhaps even spectacular.
The art in this picture book shines and glows. Octopus and the other sea life pop against the dark blues and blacks of the watery background. The art has a wonderful internal light that gives it a real sense of being underwater. When Octopus heads out to be alone, the moment when she sees the whale is one of the most powerful and beautiful in the book. It is handled with a lovely pause in the text and bubbles galore in the illustrations.
This is one glorious look at an underwater world that will speak to introverts and children who may feel shy at times. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Beach Feet by Kiyomi Konagaya, illustrated by Masamitsu Saito
Released June 12, 2012.
This picture book is a trip to the beach along with a very exuberant little boy. There are salty breezes, hot sand, cool water, and plenty of sun. The little boy races to get to the water, surprised by the heat captured in the hot sand. That quickly turns to relief upon reaching the cool, wet sand. Then the waves come in, cold and big, tickling around toes as the water recedes again. It leaves behind a revealed shell, something for the boy’s toes to find. Then there are more waves, floating in the ocean, and even more sun.
Konagaya’s very short text is a delight. The translation from the Japanese is successful, keeping the quiet yet excited mood of exploring a beach. It offers just enough context to share the pleasures of the ocean without getting in the way at all, making it ideal for very young listeners.
The illustrations by Saito are rich and deep. They move from playful exuberance to quieter moments. The bright yellow of the sunshine, the cool grey of wet sand, the blue of the waves. This art captures the beach perfectly. It has a wonderful fluidity to it, captured most effectively in the skin of the child that flows from oranges and pinks.
A successful look at a day at the beach that is perfect to share with toddlers, this book should come along with a shovel and pail. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.