Flotsam. By David Wiesner. Houghton Mifflin/Clarion, 32 pp., $17.95. Ages 3 and up.
By Janice Harayda
David Wiesner won the 2007 Caldecott Medal today for an eloquent, wordless picture book that encourages children to find the magic in everyday life. Flotsam tells the story of a boy who finds an underwater camera that washes up on a beach at the New Jersey shore, where the artist spent summers as a child. (The book doesn’t name the location but shows a beach tag reading “LBI” that, along with other visual references, situates the story clearly on Long Beach Island.) Wiesner’s young hero rushes to have the film developed and finds that it reveals a fantasy world of remarkable images, beautifully rendered in lush watercolors — a red wind-up fish, an undersea flying saucer full of miniature aliens, a starfish carrying a mountain Atlas-like on its back. The boy also sees photos of children from other countries and times, including one that appears to show the Jersey shore at the turn-of-the-century (a tribute to the artist’s great-grandparents?).
After taking a photo of himself, Wiesner’s hero throws the camera back into the ocean, where it takes another fantastic journey before being found on the last page by a young girl in a tropical realm where nobody needs a beach tag. As in his wordless picture book Tuesday, Wiesner invites children (and their elders) to make up their stories to go with his images. And he provides material rich enough to captivate a variety of ages. Toddlers and younger preschoolers may enjoy simply looking at the vibrant images and pointing to creatures they recognize while adults fill in the story. Older preschoolers and young school-age children may want to make up their own tales to explain, for example, how an octopus came to be sitting on underwater armchair. (They get help from clues such as an overturned “Moving and Storage” van also resting on the bottom of the sea.) Throughout Flotsam, shifting perspectives encourage children to see the world from many angles and, above all, to find the extraordinary in ordinary life.
Best line/Picture: One that shows Wiesner’s witty use of detail: The fringe on a sofa and ottoman provide a subtle visual echo of the tentacles of an octopus sitting on an armchair.
Worst line/picture: None.
Recommended … without reservations.
Published: October 2006.
Furthermore: Wiesner received earlier Caldecott Medals for Tuesday and The Three Pigs. His Sector 7 and Free Fall were Caldecott Honor books. If you found this review of Flotsam helpful, you may also want to read the review of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, who won the Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux. The review was posted on One-Minute Book Reviews on January 27, 2007, and is archived in the Children’s Books category.
(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
One-Minute Book Reviews is an indepdendent literary blog created by Janice Harayda, who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. A new review of a book for children or teenagers appears every Saturday on this site.