Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Beachcombing: David Wiesner's Flotsam

In the bleak midwinter, it's a treat to open David Wiesner's Caldecott Award book, Flotsam and bathe in his watercolor beach scenes, executed first is soft pastels and then in brilliant underwater brights.

The wordless picture book begins with a blond boy intently studying a crab under his magnifying glass. Swamped by a wave, the seaweed-draped boy notices an underwater camera half sunk in the sand. When he develops the film inside, the prints show fantastic underwater fauna--a windup fish, an octopus seated in a cozy underwater chair, alien beings exploring the deep sea world--and a photograph of an Asian girl, holding a photo of a Lapp boy, holding a photo of another boy holding a photo of another boy and on and on.

Putting to use his magnifying glass and then his microscope at progressively increased power, the boy follows the image sequence back through decades to an early twentieth-century boy waving, with no photo in his hands. It's clear that there is only one thing to do: the boy photographs himself holding the photo and tosses the camera back into the ocean, where it drifts until it washes up at the feet of another child.

Although this is a wordless picture book, it's not really aimed at the very young. Flotsam is at its best tantalizing kids between seven and ten with its hint of infinity and the timeless mystery of the sea.

For Wiesner's other Caldecott books, see Tuesday, The Three Pigs, Sector 7, and Free Fall.

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  • It's been nearly 32 years since I was an elementary school student, and in my quest to provide my three reading children with books I'm trying to dredge up some of the books I remember as a child.

    I remember a series about a family who lived on a one-acre farm that was the most fertile land ever, they would plant a crop in the morning and harvest it in the afternoon. They were always dirt poor, and the bad guy in the series was some man who coveted their rich farm and was always trying to get it from them. The main theme was exaggeration, it got so cold one winter the sun froze to the ground, so they cut chunks off of it and kept them in the cold cellar, one adventure had them powering their old broken-down car with popcorn and a chunk of the sun that melted and the heat popped the corn, propelling them down the road to pay the taxes just in time.

    I would have heard these books read to me in third grade or so, around 1976. For the life of me I can't remember a title or an author. Is any of this sounding familiar?

    BTW, some of the best books I remember as a kid in the 4th-5th grade years were the 'Great Brain' books, they're still in print and I have some if I can ever convince my nearly 9 year-old son to read for entertainment. My 7 year-old and 5 year-olds don't need much encouragement.

    Thanks in advance!

    By Blogger Darren Duvall, at 3:48 PM  

  • Dear Darren,
    I'm sorry that I don't know the book about the farm family. I've got a few childhood favorites I wish I could find, too.
    I love the Great Brain series, too. When I was trying to move my younger son (age 8) into chapter books, I read the first book in the series aloud on a long car trip, and everyone in the car was laughing out loud through the whole book. Maybe you can try that when you have a more-or-less captive audience.

    By Blogger GTC, at 9:27 PM  

  • That series about the wonderful one acre farm is the McBroom series by Sid Fleischman:

    McBroom Tells the Truth
    McBroom Tells a Lie McBroom the Rainmaker McBroom’s Ghost Here Comes McBroom! Three More Tall Tales
    McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm: Three Tall Tales

    There may be more in the series, but these are ones I have read.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:52 AM  

  • Thanks, Ellen,
    When I read your answer to Darren's book query, I said "Duh! Of course." You're a genius!

    By Blogger GTC, at 10:54 AM  

  • I'm glad to see your post on Flotsam. My sister is working on her PhD in Children's Lit, and I bought her this book for Christmas, on the recommendation of a friend. I looked at if before I gave it to her and really enjoyed it. I hope she did too!

    By Blogger Library Diva, at 6:13 PM  

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