Three by the Sea
by Mini Grey
Reading Level: Ages 4 and up
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (April 5, 2011)
My Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Review copy from publisher
You know when you read a picture book, and the artwork and the writing work beautifully together that they feel almost inseparable? That’s what I experienced when I read, and re-read, Three by the Sea by Mini Grey. The text didn’t tell the entire story–the illustrations told us the rest, and the reader had to look at the illustrations to understand the things that the text didn’t tell us. The text also flowed well and never stumbled, telling the story in an appealing way, and the illustrations were whimsical and drew me in.
In Three By the Sea, three friends–a cat, a mouse, and a dog–all live happily together, each doing their own work to help each other out. But when a fox salesman comes along, he sows discontent and suspicion, and after a big fight and then a crisis, the three friends have to figure out what they mean to each other and how to be happy. And figure it out they do, with a few changes.
I love the way it’s so clear, without telling us outright, that the salesman means no good even though he’s saying he does, and that free is not really free (at least from salesmen). And I also love how Grey suggests that advertisements can make us unhappy by suggesting we need or want things that we don’t actually need or want and were quite happy without. I also took from Three By The Sea that ads and society can push stereotypes on us that don’t fit us at all, and that friendship and love can be stronger than any disagreement. Friends can be family. There are good messages in this book without being didactic; instead, they are woven into the story.
Grey’s illustrations are quirky, expressive, and layered with texture, and are pleasing to the eye. The illustrations and panels move the story along visually; we see the wet fox salesman arriving on the beach in one panel, and then his hand knocking on the friends’ door while we see them happy eating cheese fondue through the porthole window in the next panel. And the text moves well; there’s just enough on every page to tell the story well. This is an enjoyable story that underscores the importance of friendship and love, and living the way that feels right to you.