Picture book review: What the Sea Saw

Picture book review: What the Sea Saw

I spied this lovely book in a museum gift shop a little before Christmas (it practically jumped off the shelf at me) and pointed it out to a whiny Bella. The cover had fish on it, how could it go wrong? I had to read it to her then and there and she loved it and I loved it. I wrote down the title and author and found it on Amazon and ordered it as a Christmas present for Bella. It’s now become the required read-aloud for nap time and bedtime.

The illustrations are luscious and luminous, brilliant seascapes with a wonderful assortment of flora and fauna that Bella loves naming: gulls, whales, sharks, lobsters, a great variety of shellfish, foxes, mice, spiders and butterflies, seaweed and beach plums, bats and moths… and did I mention all sorts of fishes? And you know how much we love fishes at this house.

The prose sings: “What the sea saw was sky above.  What the sky saw was sea below. The sea saw a gull shoot from the sky leaving the wind empty. The sky saw soft, white-feathered wings dip into the foaming sea. The gull saw fish in the sea swimming in schools, scales shimmering silver.” It has an elevated vocabulary, not artificially limited for young readers, and a rhythm that is pleasant to read. I really don’t mind repeating this one over and over again. (And given Bella’s tendency to fixate on a particular book for weeks at a time, that is so important to me.) Unlike so many poorly composed children’s books there are no distracting infelicities of either diction or syntax. 

There is a three-page section at the back of the book, after the story, that explains a little about ecosystems, examining the habitats of water, shoreline, and dunes. I skip this part with Bella, but it is a nice addition for older children.

Highly recommended.

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1 comment
  • Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, does the same sort of thing with the picture size and borders.  Despite the fact that it is a widely acclaimed, award winning book, I’ve never cared for it, even when I was a child.  I’m guessing it’s because I couldn’t identify with Max, whose behavior was so disrespectful and naughty.