Muon Van and April Chu's In a Village by the Sea is the kind of book that always makes me wonder what kind of working relationship the author and illustrator have. Whatever kind of communication the two shared during the illustrating of this book, Van's text is a strong, poetic foundation upon which Chu hangs her elegant, detailed, inviting illustrations.
In a Village by the Sea is a circular story with a rhythmic, almost nursery rhyme pace, calling to mind "The House that Jack Built." It begins, "In a fishing village by the sea there is a small house. In that house, high above the waves, is a kitchen." At sea, a father and fisherman weather a storm while at home in the kitchen, his wife and baby await his return. Linking the two and moving the story forward are the family dog and a creative cricket. As noodle soup steams over the fire in the kitchen where the mother cooks and the sleeps child stretches and yawns, "tucked in the shadows is a dusty hole," where a "brown cricket, humming and painting." With brushes in all four hands, the cricket paints a stormy ocean scene where a fisherman, worry on his face, opens a special box that holds photographs of his family and home and an origami cricket.
The final illustration shows the cricket, who we saw preparing to paint before the start of the story, signing a painting with the same initials as the illustrator, AC. In her author's note, Muon tells readers that her story was inspired by her father, who was a fisherman, and her ancestral village in Central Vietnam. Just like the family in In a Village by the Sea, Muon's family would wait and wonder where her father was, "if he found the catch he was looking for, and when he was returning home again, safe and sound."
I love the simple, circular story of In a Village by the Sea, but it is Chu's illustrations that draw me in and keep me returning to this beautiful book. Chu, who also illustrated the superb Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine and the notable book of poems and prose, Summoning the Phoenix, began her career as an architect. Her style is warn and inviting and openly appealing. This, Chu's strong black lines and attention to detail call to mind the marvelous David Wiesner. I can't wait to see what April Chu does next!
One final note, both In a Village by the Sea and Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine are both published by Creston Books, a brand new children's book publisher based in Northern California dedicated to resurrecting the "golden age of picture books, when fine books were edited and published despite not being blockbusters." Creston Books's books, which are printed IN THE USA, are beautifully packaged and standout on the shelves for what is on the outside as well as the inside. Best of all? Creston Books was founded by children's book author Marissa Moss! You can read my reviews of many of her books here.
Source: Review Copy