Friday, July 30, 2010

The Sea Chest by Toni Buzzeo: Book Nook Breakdown

The Sea Chest
Written by Toni Buzzeo
Illustrated by Mary GrandPre
Reading Level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Dial (August 5, 2002)
ISBN: 978-0803727038
Buy This Book on Amazon: The Sea Chest

I'm so pleased to post about 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.

Toni Buzzeo's 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.


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