The mystery of what lies beneath
2007 Caldecott Medal Winner
Two-time Caldecott Medalist David Wiesner turns from the flying frogs in Tuesday and the cloud factory in Sector 7 to the mysteries of the sea in yet another brilliant, wordless picture book, Flotsam. Like many of the author's creations, this story begins with an inquisitive child, a boy observing crabs with his magnifying glass along the ocean shore. Without warning, a wave deposits a barnacle-encrusted Brownie-style camera, labeled the Melville Underwater Camera, before the protagonist.
After waiting a seemingly endless hour for the film to be developed, the boy views a set of fantastical underwater photographs: wind-up fish with gears, an octopus family reading to its young by the light of bioluminescent fish, a colony of tiny people residing atop the shells of sea turtles, and stretching starfish-islands. But wait! There's also a photograph of a girl holding a photograph of a boy. And within that photograph is another boy holding a photograph of a girl. Puzzled, the boy first uses his magnifying glass, and then a microscope, to observe each child's photograph, ending with a sepia-toned, turn-of-the-20th-century image of a boy his own age. An open-ended conclusion leaves room for any child's sense of wonder to carry on.
Wiesner proves why he is an award-winning storyteller and illustrator with vivid watercolors that range from vignettes to spectacular full- and double-page panoramic views. Wonderful displays of imagination are evident throughout, as are small touches of humor, such as a photo of overly eager visiting aliens and their unruly children. Older and more astute readers will find many surprises, including a hint to the boy's discovery in the book's cover art, a reference to Wiesner's The Three Pigs on the title page, and a clever imitation of a classic Japanese print, Katsushika Hokusai's The Great Wave at Kanagawa. Most importantly, Wiesner continues to show children that things aren't always what they seem. Would the Caldecott committee consider a three-peat?
Angela Leeper is an educational consultant and writer in Wake Forest, North Carolina.