CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 24. . . .February 21, 2014
On Poppy’s Beach is the depiction of a summer day spent on the beach by a young child while visiting his grandparents, from early morning to after moonrise, the time when his parents come to pick him up. A note at the back of the book informs readers that the beach in question is a “rural Newfoundland beach”; I could not discern this from the pictures or text of the book, itself, but those who are more familiar with Newfoundland may recognize such details as the look of the boats and houses, or the depiction of the beach itself, as being unique to the area.
The protagonist child is on the beach early in the morning, watching the seagulls and feeling the salty breeze. He waves to fishermen catching lobsters, squishes squeaky seaweed and looks at crabs, jellyfish and starfish. Humpback whales and dolphins play in the bay. Soon he is joined by a friend who collects seashells and builds sandcastles with him. As the day ends, Poppy, his grandfather, arrives, mends his net, and regales the children with his fiddle. Neighbours gather around a fire and tell tales of mermaids and pirates until the boy starts to fall asleep and it is time to go home. He says goodbye to his grandparents, Poppy and Nan, and promises to come again when he can.
The text, as can be seen from the excerpts, is in verse; the format of the book is consistent throughout, with a short, eight-line poem accompanied by a relevant illustration. The illustration occupies a page and a half, or three-quarters of a double spread, with the poem in the remaining half page on a separate white background. The effect is similar to viewing an exhibition of paintings or photographs on the theme of a day at the beach, with the accompanying captions being in verse. The transition from scene to scene is very clearly defined, and while the characters may be quite lively within individual scenes, the overall impression is of being static. This adds to the strong sense of nostalgia felt from the text, which is written from the first person point of view (that of the child playing) but “sounds” adult, especially in the final poem shown in the excerpt. These could be points that make the narrative feel artificial to some readers, Personally, I found that the book’s nostalgic quality, as if I were flipping through a collection of old photographs, to be quite attractive.
The illustrations are in an unidentified medium which look (to my untrained eye) like very pigmented watercolour, or perhaps coloured pencil. While the illustrations have perspective, there is an odd feeling of being one-dimensional, a quaint flatness to the pictures which reminds me of the cardboard stages used for puppet shows. I haven’t the knowledge to explain it in any detail, but I feel it makes the scenes more childlike and naïve. Some of the animals, such as a robin, moose, and rabbit, seem to have been drawn on separate pieces of paper and pasted into the illustration as a collage, which adds to that effect.
While On Poppy’s Beach might be a fun read for a child on her/his own as the language is quite lively, I can also see this book being read together by grandparents and children who also share memories of days spent on the beach.
Sae Yong Kim has an MA in Children’s Literature and is now studying in the MLIS program at the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, University of British Columbia, BC.
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