After Jonathan’s parents trade his teddy bear Frederick for a more useful and age-appropriate toaster, he sets sail on a rusty Big Blue Boat to find his lost toy.Layers of watercolor over bits of collaged found paper deliver deft, dappled illustrations with remarkable depth, leaving readers feeling as if they’re peering down into rippling waters. Children will happily shift their focus from big to little, from large shapes to tiny numbers, from Jonathan’s story to the pieces that make up its pictures. A similar, subtle (and enchanting) disjointedness occurs as readers hear how Jonathan picks up his unlikely crew: a mountain goat, a circus elephant and a whale. The story sounds almost improvised, spouting spontaneously from a child’s rambling mind and taking a random, fanciful course. The Big Blue Boat teeters on top of a mountain after a storm, then runs into a circus, then meets up with scaredy-cat pirates, then finds itself saved from sinking by a whale. Stead gently establishes an element of suspense through both his patchwork illustrations and his bumpy narrative, keeping readers on their toes. When Jonathan steps inside a city shop and sees his bear in the arms of the girl behind the counter, they’re right with him.
Stead encourages children to puzzle over minutia, readying them to think about more opaque topics: growing up, obsolescence and the intrigue of old, forgotten things. (Picture book. 2-6)