Friday, July 30, 2010

I Love KidLit: The Sea Chest


I'm happy to be sharing the very first post in my new I Love KidLit series, an ongoing blog thread in which I will be highlighting one children's book per day from my personal collection. (Based on the current size of my picture book library alone, I can easily do this for almost two years without repeats---and between my husband and I our collection is only getting bigger. )

Admittedly, the reasons for starting this project are predominantly self-satisfying (for one, I really need to catalog all our books!). But more importantly, if I want to be a good book illustrator, I need to do my analytic research! I really want to start articulating why I like the books I like in terms of both story and illustrative qualities, and what makes these books such enjoyable experiences. It is my hope that by discussing these books not only will I better understand my favorite art form, but I'll be able to share what I love with others who love kidlit too.

So, without further ado, I've selected Toni Buzzeo's THE SEA CHEST, illustrated by Mary GrandPré as today's I Love KidLit installment.

I'm so pleased to begin with this book, it is one of my absolute favorites. Although it is not rare for me to cry at picture books, it's generally a sign of a strong story when I do, and this one in particular really strikes me. The combination of poetic writing and emotive, painterly images gets me every time. The story-within-a story is simple: While waiting for a "stranger" to arrive, an old woman recalls to her great-grandniece her childhood spent living on an isolated lighthouse island with only her parents. A storm hits, a ship sinks, and an orphaned baby is discovered in a chest washed up on the rocks. The baby girl is taken in, instantly becoming family, and growing to fulfill the roll of the narrator's little sister as they spend their childhood together on the island. As adults they move to the mainland and live nearby to each other, each having their own full life.

The writing is truly lyrical, straightforward, and simple. Never telling too much--just enough to follow the story and allows the reader to imagine the unwritten parts of these characters lives. And it is what remains unwritten that makes this story so meaningful to me. It is essentially about friendship, love, and loss between sisters, an idea very close to my heart. And without giving away everything, the book is about life, death, and life again, and really comes full circle in it's appreciation of that truth.

Mary GrandPré is one of my favorite illustrators. Her characterizations are sensitively simplified and allow for a certain amount of universal appeal. Her use of material is expressive, filled with a quiet energy that brings her scenes to life. Her color palette exudes an underlying sense of comfort and warmth. I love her work because somehow I always feel safe in her world of color and form. All of these visual sensibilities complement the beautifully abstract tenderness of the story.

Picturebooks like these remind me why I love this medium so much. Yes, it is literature for children, but its beautiful sophistication and simple truth transcend and redefine what that really means.


  1. I have a feeling that most of the best kid books are not translated to Polish and you cannot find them even in English in Poland :(

    I don't have as many books as you (it seems) but since I love them and I also make my own collection slowly I think that your idea is great :) Hope to read a brand new review every day!

  2. That's a shame. It certainly makes me appreciate all the books I have even more now. They inspire me so much and without them I don't think I'd be the same!