The ocean has been spewing out stories that feed the imagination for decades. It’s a place of never ending possibilities for authors, an unexplored frontier that leaves itself open for interpretation. We can dream up a thousand things that are hiding in its waters, and a thousand more stories to tell about them. Flotsam, by author/ illustrator David Weisner, focuses on the timeless aspect of the ocean, using its endless existent as the foundation of a fascinating story-completely without words.
What Happens in ‘Flotsam’?
Flotsam: Wreckage of a ship found washed up/ floating debris.
A young boy, keen on discovering the world around him, is visiting the beach with his parents. He entertains himself by catching crabs and looking at them through his magnifying glass and telescope. He’s intent on looking at one sea creature in particular when a huge wave crashes over him, and he finds himself washed up onto the beach and an old fashioned camera, covered in seaweed and with the words “Melvilles Underwater Camera” on the front it, sitting in front of him. He picks it up and gets the film developed. What he sees in the pictures in fascinating. There’s a robotic fish swimming amongst real ones, octopus reading to their young ones, entire ecosystems on the back of giant starfish, even some seahorses surrounding a group of aliens that have descended to the ocean floor.
But the most fascinating is a picture of a girl, who is holding a picture of a boy, who is holding a picture of a girl and so on and so forth. Looking through his telescope, he can see all the kids holding up these photographs, way back to the very first black and white one. Its centuries captured in pictures, kids who have somehow had the mutual understanding of what to continue when the camera came to them. The boy holds up the picture of the last person to take one, sets up the camera, and takes one of himself. Then he throws the camera back into the ocean where it can find its way to someone else.
David Weisner’s illustrations in Flotsam are extremely realistic and detailed. This is helpful in the sense that since there are no words, it’s not too hard to understand what is going on in each picture. The illustrations are mostly horizontal, allowing a lot to fill each frame. When Weisner is going through the photos that have been developed, the angles at which they’re taken vary and add a realistic touch in that sense as well. For example, somehow the camera managed to take a picture of two starfish rearing up out of the water, but we’re looking up at them as though the camera is half submerged. Of all the books by Weisner that I’ve read, Flotsam did not have my favorite illustrations. I love his detailed style, but it’s a personal quirk of mine that I don’t really enjoy the super realistic people in children’s books, more the creatures. Either way, the artwork is outstanding.
Quibbles & Qualms & Overall Impression
There was really only one qualm I had with this book. Just reading through it the first time it seemed rather disjointed. It seems to be one that adults and older readers will enjoy more than young readers or pre-readers. On the other hand, I can see it still being great for pre-readers, as there is no words, so they can enjoy the story without struggling to put together sentences. The pictures are beautiful, and the story itself is captivating. This is a book that will enrich many shelves and lives.