Sunday, September 01, 2019

Quiet! Genius at Work! Hum and Swish by Matt Myers

Jamie and the sea are friends. Jamie hums. The waves squish.

Jamie collects shells, assorted flotsam and jetsam, even castoff plastic straws and a bottle cap. She wants to make something, but making takes thinking--and solitude.

A couple, walking their dog, come by, smile, and ask her what she's making. Jamie doesn't look up, but says softly that she doesn't know yet.

A man walks by, crouching to peer at her sand structure. Jamie doesn't look up.
"Aren't you clever?" he says, jovially.

"I don't know," Jamie says.

Another passerby says her shell people are pretty. Two bikinied teen girls tell her she's cute and flash a phone photo. A toddler scowls at her shell pony and stick girl, and Jamie scowls protectively back. Her parents come by with sunscreen and a juice box and more questions. Jamie just hums and keeps on working.
The sea tells stories, but it doesn't ask questions.

At last a lady comes by and in companionable silence sets up an easel and a folding stool and table with paints. Jamie watches. Finally she has to ask the lady what she's making. The lady, absorbed in her canvas, replies that she can't say--yet.
Jamie hums. The woman swishes her paintbrush in a jar.

It's not the product, but the process that matters, in Matt Myer's stunningly illustrated beach story, Hum and Swish (Neal Porter/Holiday House Books, 2019), in which art gets done in its own time. Jamie's dark, wind-tossed curls, the golden sand, and the gentle blue-green wavelets portray a halcyon seaside, beautifully done in Myer's layered acrylic and oil paintings which make the eye want to linger a little longer on that lovely summer shore. Myers relents at last and reveals the two completed works, and there's a sense of satisfaction for young readers, but the concept that the joy is in the experience of the creation is the gentle prevailing theme of this picture book.

It's hard to read this book without thinking of sharing it with Caldecott artist David Wiesner's  classic beach story, Flotsam(Clarion, 2006) (see review here).

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