New Frontier, 2021
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Life was both predictable and peaceful on the island and the little girl played happily, safely on the sand as all around her life went on. But then, the storm hit. And there was nothing and nobody left – except for an abandoned boat and a lost baby seal. Together they huddled in the boat sailing over the ocean with its perils lurking, giving and seeking comfort and confidence from each other as they sought sanctuary. But when the pup’s mother eventually finds it, the little girl is left alone once more… will her story have a happy ending too?
Superbly illustrated by Anna Pignataro who captures the many moods of the ocean in an amazing mix of watercolour hues, moods which reflect those of the little girl as she moves through fear, comfort, hope, resignation, loneliness, anticipation and a host of other emotions as the days drift by, there is nevertheless an underlying sense that there will be that happy ending as the image of the polka dot cloth from the beach illustration appears as a blanket, a scarf and a sail like a symbol of hope and a connection between then and the future. She describes the processes involved in her illustrations here.
Nearly all the reviews I discovered for this book just offered the publisher’s blurb, accepting the recommendation for “3-6 years” at face value, but anyone who is familiar with Vescio’s writing knows that this is more than a story about a little girl and a seal pup finding solace in each other while lost at sea – the storm in the child’s life could be a real wind-and-rain, lightning-and-thunder storm, but it could also be any number of events that disrupt the routine of what our children expect – fire, floods, pandemic, death, divorce; the seal could be a favourite toy, a pet, an imaginary friend… And while there is an underlying message for the child to ride the waves to a safe haven, and that fear and uncertainty are a natural part of the voyage, and it’s OK to seek comfort wherever we may find it, there is also a message to parents to be patient while the child navigates the trip and to have faith that they will emerge into their arms safely again.
So, as usual, much to think about and consider, and definitely for a broader audience than our youngest readers.