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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
by David Wiesner
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin,(September 2006)
In this wordless fantasy a scientific-minded, inquisitive boy who's studying bugs and crabs at the beach comes upon an old underwater camera that is washed upon him in a wave. The boy examines the camera, finds the film, and gets it developed, only to find a series of extraordinary photos—a mechanical fish swimming under water within a school of live fish; an octopus reading a story to other octopi and fish in an underwater living room, complete with sofas, lamps, and tables; a tortoise swimming with a tiny shell city on its back, and more. Even more wonderful is the last photo the boy uncovers—a photo of a modern-day girl holding a photo of a boy who is holding up a photo of another child who is holding up a photo of another child—and on and on it goes.
The boy, amazed and intrigued, gets out his magnifying glass and studies the smallest photo he can see—only to find more photos within photos. He then gets out his microscope and sees a series of children from around the world going back in time to the very first one of a boy in the 1900s. The boy then takes a photo of himself holding the photo of all the children who've seen this marvelous camera, and throws the camera back into the water, for another child to find. We follow the camera as undersea creatures drag it down under to a sea world with miniature mer-people, and then through the waters until we see a new child reach to pick it up.
Wiesner ( Tuesday ) has created a magical, mind-opening fantasy. Wonder and suspense is created first through the mystery of the washed-up camera, then the look of awe and amazement on the boy's face, then the built-up tension of making us wait before showing us what the photos contain. This tension is also created through the movement through time as, in many of the larger paintings, numerous smaller paintings are lined up to show the progression of events. The greatest wonder is in the highly creative, imaginative photos themselves, and in those photos continuing their journey to more children--and, the book suggests, it could be any child, at any beach, even the reader.
Wiesner's beautifully crafted, vivid watercolor paintings are painted in a realistic fashion, which makes the fantasy seem all the more fun and possible. There is great detail in each painting, from the light glancing off the magnifying glass and the holes in the net, to the barnacles clinging to the camera and its various clips and straps.
The strong body language and facial expressions in the illustrations leave the reader no doubt as to what the boy is feeling. Brighter colors are often used to make the boy or the focal point stand out, and many of the shades of blue and green are echoed throughout the paintings—in the boy's swim trunks, pants, pail and shovel, and eyes; in the water, sky, seaweed, and shadows; in the camera itself; and within the photos. This pulls the book together nicely.
Some of the paintings take up the entire page, while others are contained within thin-line borders and are split between two or more per page. Each "photo" is surrounded by a white border and then a black border, suggesting the border that some photos naturally have around them. This white border is echoed when we see the photos in the boy's hand. The exceptions to this are the first photo, because we are seeing it as a close-up, and the very last photos, which are round circles of sepia or black-and-white images against black, because they are viewed through the boy's microscope, with the amount of magnification printed in white to the left of each photo. This adds a nice touch, as if we are seeing the photos along with the boy.
The paintings also move from close-up views of the boy and what he is seeing, to pulled-back views where we see the boy and the setting, and back to close-up views, helping us both feel part of the story, and a viewer of the story as it unfolds.
There is so much to examine in each of the illustrations, but most especially the wonder-filled paintings, where readers can let their imaginations loose, wondering how those scenes came to be. For a trip into wonder and delight, pick up this book. You won't be disappointed. Highly recommended.
-Added January 2007
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