Friday, June 24, 2011

Ocean Wide, Ocean Deep by Susan Lendroth

Ocean Wide, Ocean Deep
by Susan Lendroth
Illustrated by Raul Allen
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Tricycle Press (2008)
ISBN-13: 978-1582462325
Buy This Book on Amazon

Set in 19th century Cape Cod, this picturebook tells the story of a young girl waiting for her father to return from a year at sea in the China trade. Time moves quickly, seasons pass, her baby brother learns to walk, and all the while she constantly wonders about the safety of her father, wherever he is, and whether he is thinking of her, too. 

Told in a traditional couplet rhyming verse, the author creates an old fashioned story complimentary of the time period of the story. Quiet, and introspective, the lyrical structure of the poem ebbs and flows like the ocean itself. Evoking the period of the age while at the same time crafting a beautiful timelessness, Susan Lendroth's verse reads like a heart-warming lullaby of family love and the patience required awaiting an absent parent's return.

I was instantly drawn to the sophisticated cover artwork by Raul Allen. The style of the girl's face and the expression in her eyes pulled me in and demanded a closer look. The line quality in Allen's work is unusual in its unpredictability, moving from thick to thin in unexpected ways. The paint balanced interesting between flat and thinly painted---some parts feel digital, some feel almost like a mono print in their texture. According to the back page, the illustrations were created using a combination of pencil, watercolor, and Photoshop. It certainly creates an interesting old time aesthetic that serves the story well. The color palette is subdued and low key, mostly earthy and sepia toned with some mild cool blues and greens sprinkled throughout. Together, all the elements combine to create emotive, beautiful images that demonstrate Allen's skill at drawing human form--though the faces can be a bit inconsistent from page to page.

An exciting new book illustrator to my eyes, and although the digital technique isn't perfect, I would look forward to seeing more books from him in the future. Allen is great at capturing subtle emotion which I greatly admire.

Just wanted to make a quick note pertaining to the design/layout of the book which I think is really well-done in its simplicity. Beginning with very subdued light blue endpapers depicting a flat spread of ocean with a ship sailing off into the distance, every bit of the book serves to enhance the flavor of the story. The design reminded me quite a bit of Candlewick Press's books, particularly The Serpent Came to Gloucester. The use of white space adds to its sophistication, as most spreads feature an illustration on one side and a white page with text and border on the opposite. It really gives presence to the verse and an intimate feeling to the illustrations. And where appropriate, it satisfyingly breaks that mold by offering a nicely paced double paged spread. Well done.

Ultimately, it's a poetic, beautiful story about patience, hope, longing and family with a happy ending that satisfies. It takes an idea many can relate to in different ways and places it in an interesting historical context where we empathize with a child who patiently endures time away from her father. Overall, a nice feel-good read.


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