Captain Toby by Satoshi Kitamura
First published in the 1980s this surreal picture book tells the story of Toby, a little boy who cannot sleep and enters a fantasy world where he is caught up in an adventure at sea. From the opening pages where we see young Toby sitting up alert in his bed the distinctive style of Kitamura’s illustrations hold the attention. Framed in black they stand out from the white background and the predominate use of blues and blacks, depicting the night sky, the seas and Toby’s bedroom, emphasise the drama. As we turn a page the rolling hills surrounding the house are transformed into rolling waves with the house a storm tossed ship at the centre.
Children may speculate whether Toby is dreaming or perhaps imagining the adventure but it does not really matter as the narrative encourages young readers to use their own imaginations. The danger and peril is enough to excite and thrill but happily there is a happy ending. The arrival of Grandpa and Grandma, albeit as Captain and Chief Gunner, to save the day is a lovely touch providing that sense of familiar and reassuring security for children. The use of a gatefold flap towards the end of the story provides an amusing reveal too.
This is a welcome re-issue from Scallywag Press who are doing much to highlight classic children’s book treasures. Satoshi Kitamura is the subject of Windows into Illustration in the July edition of Books for Keeps and you may like to read what he says about the background to this book and details of the illustrative technique he used here.
I should like to thank Scallywag Press and Laura Smythe for my review copy. Captain Toby was published in June 2021 and is available to purchase on the publishers’ website.
Sadie and the Sea Dogs by Maureen Duffy illustrated by Anita Joice
Sadie and the Sea Dogs is the story of a girl who has a dream of one day experiencing a real life sea adventure just like the ones she has learned about in the Maritime Museum and on the Cutty Sark near where she lives. When one day she falls asleep in the museum her dreams come true.
This book has a lovely traditional feel to it, an old fashioned adventure featuring in Sadie a contemporary girl who knows her own mind but who has a love for history and seafaring. The story incorporates a lively mix of mermaids and dolphins, pirates and villains, myths and legends. Maureen Duffy, a poet and playwright, writes in a lyrical style and the illustrations by Anita Joice are rich and colourful. This adventure romps along at rapid pace but incorporates interesting details within the fun.
The end papers depict maps charting the sea routes and this combined with the detail and the references to historical characters and familiar mythical names enables young readers to learn as they read and may encourage them to find out more. There is also a helpful glossary providing information about some of the aspects of the story such as the parts of the ship, locations and characters.