In circular fashion, this simple story’s narration unfolds, with great power behind the few words on each page.
The intense illustrations, done in pencil and digitally colored, set human and animal characters into seascapes and interior scenes in an almost timeless Vietnam and extend the story far beyond the words. A wife and a baby are in their traditional kitchen anxiously awaiting the fisherman-husband’s return. He is in his boat, fearfully viewing the dark waves and black clouds but also looking at family photos (a hint of modernity). Will he get home to his wife and baby “in his village by the sea” in the “small house” mentioned at beginning and end? Of course readers hope that he will, but there’s far more to this book than just the story. The visual surprises here are a faithful, loving dog that appears in most illustrations and leads eyes to “a brown cricket, humming and painting” beyond a hole in the wall. This is not just any cricket but perhaps illustrator Chu’s avatar. After all, the cricket is seen painting the scene of the stormy seas and the little white fishing boat with the husband sitting nervously on the deck. Near the author and artist biographies, the cricket is even signing “AC.”
The illustrations, with strong references to Chinese pen-and-ink landscapes and Japanese woodblock prints of the sea, will draw readers to this book again and again. (Picture book. 4-7)