I still have quite a lot of water-themed picture books that I borrowed from the library, and I shall attempt to review as many as I could until end of the year. I have grouped them into themes/categories and these four glorious picture books celebrate islands and beaches and waves. I hope you find them in your libraries.

The IslandIMG_4453

Story By: John Heffernan
Illustrated by: Peter Sheehan
Publisher: Scholastic Press from Scholastic Australia, 2005
Borrowed from the NIE Library.

Among the four books I have on spread here, I am starting with my absolute favorite. This book has captured my heart from the first few pages:

There was once a hardworking tribe that rarely smiled and never laughed.

The tribe lived on an island. It was a beautiful island, but the people were too busy to notice. All except one, a blind urchin who slept under the stars.

The urchin heard the sighs of the sea and listened to the whispers of the breeze. He felt the welcome of the sun as it woke the day, and could smell the scent of a storm. He felt the air change when the sea birds wheeled, heard the fish as they slid through the bay, and knew better than anyone the tickle of sand between his toes.

The language, as you can see, is exquisite, and the illustrations have a vivid character/style of their own. The description of this beautiful island also reminded me a little bit of my adopted home country who has taken me (and my family) into its fold: with its hurried cityscape and people rushing from one end of the island to the next, desperately trying to catch up with deadlines, schedules, meetings.

This island was transformed, though, by the blind boy’s laughter as he discovered what the islanders initially perceived as a ‘monster’ with its multi-colored scales, and tentacles: “Soft rubber libs, scales that trembled, slithery skin, warm and wet with life” – everything that a blind urchin could ever want and more.


Gradually, the islanders learned how to play, laugh, and have fun – despite the fact that this did not come naturally to them. However, man’s greed, inevitable (and needless) anxiety, and sense of ownership made the islanders decide to capture this beautiful monster so that they could “keep it forever.” What happened to the creature and the urchin, I shall leave for you to discover. This picture book has no neat endings and predictable resolutions that would make the reader feel good. I guarantee though that it will make readers think and reflect on the precious beautiful things we put in a cage for fear that it might fly free, only to discover that we have killed that which made it beautiful to begin with.

IMG_4455The Little Island

Story By: Golden MacDonald
Illustrated by: Leonard Weisgard
Publisher: Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York, 1946.
Borrowed from the NIE Library.

This Caldecott Honor book is a celebration of the various seasons and the oft-taken-for-granted creatures that make an island beautiful: flying birds, rising tides, spiders spinning their webs, violets with golden eyes, lobsters with their seemingly-impenetrable shells, baby seals, kingfishers building their nests. Each of the full-page painting made me marvel at the simplicity and beauty of nature and how all the beings in the world are interconnected in various ways and forms.

There is also the beautiful celebration of dark secret places and truths that we hold on to because we have faith. I love the conversation between the little kitten and the fish:

“Answer me this or I’ll eat you up,” said the kitten. “How is an Island a part of the land?”

“Come with me,” said the fish, “down into the dark secret places of the sea and I will show you.”

“I can’t swim,” said the cat. “Show me another way or I’ll eat you up.” 


“Then you must take it on faith what I tell you,” said the fish. “What’s that?” said the cat – “Faith.” “To believe what I tell you about what you don’t know,” said the fish.

And the fish told the kitten how all land is one land under the sea. The cat’s eyes were shining with the secret of it. And because he loved secrets he believed. And he let the fish go.

This is a book that would make one sigh and croon and make one long for the wild waves, the briny smell of the sea, its tempestuous nature, and the many creatures that transform the waters into a veritable haven.

At The Beach: Postcards from Crabby SpitIMG_4460

Story and Pictures By: Roland Harvey
PublisherAllen & Unwin, 2004
Borrowed from the NIE Library.

Now this is a fun book that reminded me a little bit of the Message in a Bottle bimonthly theme we had early in 2011. The entire narrative is written in epistolary format, each page a postcard written by Henry, Frankie, and Penny to their grandmother – these are siblings who went to Crabby Spit for a short vacation, and lovely children that they are, they documented their little trip through the postcards they sent to Grandma. Since the postcards were written by three different children, it was a little difficult for me to keep track of who’s writing what. The fonts are all the same, and the narrative was such that there was very little distinction among the three kids.

What worked best for me, though, were the amazingly-detailed illustrations ala Where’s Waldo? Young children would have a blast trying to match the events described in the postcard and the gorgeous illustrations bursting with so much fun, animation, movement, flair, and character.


This fun picture book celebrates one’s eye for detail, color, appreciation of humor and crazy family times.

The IMG_4464Great Wave: A Children’s Book inspired by Hokusai

Story By: Véronique Massenot
Illustrated by
Bruno Pilorget
Prestel, Verlag, 2011.
Borrowed from the Public Library.

The Author’s note found at the back of the book noted that this picture book is inspired by Katsushika Hokusai’s colored wood-cut artwork entitled The Great Wave off Kanagawa which is part of a picture series called Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji. 

Hokusai was born in 1760 and was described to be the most famous Japanese painter and print maker of all time: “At the end of the 1800s, Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, and other European artists admired Hokusai. The French painter Claude Monet even collected his prints.”

It is clear that Hokusai has inspired a great many artists, musicians, writers and immortalized his vision in various artforms. This picture book shares the story of Aki and Taro who were childless, until a child from the sea, a little miracle, happened onto their lives – brought as a gift by the gigantic waves that nearly drowned hardworking fishermen out in the stormy waters.


The boy from the sea, Naoki, knew about his mysterious origins and wanted to find out exactly who his ‘real’ parents are. This is where the narrative got a little dicey for me, as the story transformed from one surreal creature to the next, without really revealing definitively the identity of Naoki, leaving me in a befuddled state as to where the narrative would go. The illustrations though are gorgeous, and the soothing blue calms the eye. If anything, it made me want to see the original Hokusai wood-cut artwork.

If you know of any other island/beach-themed picture book, I’d be glad to hear about them.

The Little Island is a Caldecott Honor Book.
The Island is a shortlisted book for the Children’s Book Council of Australia.
AWB Reading Challenge Update: 133-134 (35)
PictureBook Challenge Update: 151-154 (120)
Caldecott Challenge Update: 24 of 24

2 comments on “An Ode to Islands and Beaches: Four Water-themed Picture Books

  1. Creative Japanese Artist – Katsushika Hokusai


  2. Pingback: Listly List - Children's Books about the Beach #children'sbooks #beach

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