Picture Book Reviews: Deep Underwater & Grandmother’s Visit

I have had the great pleasure to pore over some seriously lovely and moving picture books as of late… (I cannot even imagine how mammoth my year-end picture book list is going to be!). Here are two beautiful recently read (and Canadian authored and illustrated!) picture books courtesy of Groundwood Books: Deep Underwater by Irene Luxbacher and Grandmother’s Visit by Betty Quan and Carmen Mok.

“My name is Sophia. I live by the sea. I know all its secrets. I know where dragons live and where floating forests grow…”
From the author and illustrator behind the critically praised Mr. Frank comes Deep Underwater, a story about a young girl named Sophia and her extraordinary journey into the deep sea. Sophia invites the reader to “dive down” with her, believing in the reader and their bravery to explore sea wonders with her. As Sophia dives with a “deep breath”, we go “past the day” to the world of incredible, inky sea life and discoveries. The underwater world melts further as Sophia continues down into an abyss, where “hot gassy bubbles burp ancient secrets from deep inside the center of the Earth” and “lost treasures wait silently” to be found. Sophia’s underwater journey of unearthing new treasures continues, but the story and tone shifts slightly when, while looking at jewels and gems, she meets a friend she seems to know very well. As the story carries itself to the end, we see Sophia carried home and to a finale that is not only satisfying in its sweetness but also open to questions and possibility. Altogether poetic and serene with marvelous art that begs for multiple studies, Deep Underwater is simply gorgeous to pore over- utterly lush and full- and having the character of Sophia narrate gives the story a dreamlike, conversation-between-bosom-buddies feel. The story itself as well as the ending can be appreciated and/or interpreted in various ways, giving the reader and/or listener even more opportunities for their curiosity and imagination to run. Readers who have enjoyed fantastical stories such as This Is Sadie, The Tea Party in the Woods, Beyond the Pond, Pool, The Whisper or Yellow Kayak might especially adore Deep Underwater.

 

“My grandmother teaches me the secret of measuring rice to water…My grandmother tells me about when she was a girl growing up in China…”
Grandmother’s Visit, written by Betty Quan and illustrated by Carmen Mok (Waiting for Sophie with Sarah Ellis) tells a moving story about a young girl’s relationship with her grandmother, and what happens when the girl and her parents face a sudden, deeply felt loss. Told through the eyes of the young girl, named Grace, readers gain insight into the bond between her and her grandmother. There is something deeply beautiful and familiar in reading about Grace’s time with her grandmother, the closeness that they share in and through their sometimes simple yet meaningful routines: of Grandmother dropping off Grace at school and later walking home together; of measuring water for rice and preparing treats from her grandmother’s childhood; of Grace enjoying her grandmother’s stories about growing up in China, her grandmother “savoring the flavors of her childhood…salty and sweet, like…pickled plums”. The story does indeed take a turn, with Grace’s initial worries about her Grandmother’s well-being building until the most devastating of all turns. After her mother tells her that “some Chinese people believe you should turn on the outside lights after someone has died” so that they can “find their way home” and “say one final goodbye”, Grace wakes that night to a noise that leads her to her grandmother’s old room and a beautiful, bittersweet discovery. A story at its core about love, loss, and grief, Grandmother’s Visit is a poignant read, especially potent in its clean, quiet tone and storytelling approach. Readers looking for picture books that touch upon the topics mentioned above and/or a book about children dealing with the passing of a grandparent, or picture books along the lines of Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms, or Ida, Always, might be interested in seeking out this affecting, loving story.

 

I received copies of Deep Underwater and Grandmother’s Visit courtesy of Groundwood Books/House of Anansi in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own. Both titles have been published and are currently available.

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