by David Wiesner

David Wiesner's Flotsam

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 4-8

Undersea Fantasy

Eventually, they might just start giving David Wiesner the Caldecott Medal automatically.

This wordless picture book would seem to have as its moral, "Throw It Back," but this is no ordinary fish story.

A boy hits the beach with exploration on the brain. He brings shovels and nets, microscope and binoculars. He's examining a crab when an underwater camera washes ashore.

It's old and barnacle-covered. It seems to belong to no one. The boy opens it.

It contains a roll of film.

(You may have to explain to the kids what film is.)

Well, the kid gets the film developed, and the resulting prints are where artist Wiesner really gets the opportunity to cut loose.

Robot fish. Octopus easy chairs. Turtle cities and blowfish balloons. Giant starfish masquerading as islands.

But then things really get strange. The last picture is a picture of a kid, on a beach...

...holding a picture...

...of another kid, on a beach...

...holding another picture...and so on.

It seems this camera's been around awhile! But what about those fantastic undersea photos? Surely the kids couldn't have taken those.

Even without words, author-illustrator Wiesner makes it plenty clear what this kid's responsibility is. He needs to take a picture of himself holding the picture. And then he needs to throw that camera back into the ocean for another kid to find.


Who's going to take all those undersea pictures? Well, it turns out that the animals are! Octopi and whales, seahorses and grouper, they all get in on the act. (It takes a village to shoot a roll of film when none of the photographers has an index finger.)

The story comes full circle when a girl on another beach finds the camera.

Flotsam by David Wiesner

This gifted artist knows how to tell a story of wonder without words. Flotsam feels like it belongs in a museum, like you're actually getting away with something by stealing it for a few bucks and giving these magical watercolors a permanent home on your child's bookshelf.

Flotsam is a feel-good book, built to give kids a sense of connectedness, of magic, of being chosen. The world isn't this good, but we can certainly let our children think it is for awhile.

David Wiesner's 'Flotsam'

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