Friday, October 7, 2011

SHIP AHOY!



By Peter Sis

(Greenwillow Books, 1999)

I had a professor in law school that I suspected dreamed of doing stand-up comedy. His lectures inevitably strayed to well-rehearsed monologues and I sat up front, willingly providing a contagious laughtrack. One time, he talked of growing up in a very poor household. His only toys were potatoes. Each night he’d have to surrender his toys, watch them get thrown in a pot of boiling water and, fifteen minutes later, he’d sit at the dinner table, forced to eat his beloved playthings. I have never looked at Yukon Golds the same.

We all know that almost anything can be a toy: stick, pot and spoon, bubble wrap, potato. Not a Box, reviewed here, captures the many alternative ways a young bunny views a cardboard box. Ship Ahoy! by Peter Sis is another book that celebrates a child’s imagination.

Ahh. That was my first reaction after “reading” Ship Ahoy!—total sense of calm as when floating on an air mattress in a pool or on a lake. This is a wordless book, its story told in a series of simple illustrations brought to life using gouache paint, watercolors, pen and ink. For the most part, Sis limits the palette to blues and white, perfect for the nautical setting.

A boy sits on a sofa with a few toys and gadgets by his side. An oval area rug rests on the living room floor. But then, the boy imagines a sea gull flying above and suddenly the room transforms to the sea. The rug expands into the vast ocean, the sofa becomes a dinghy. By changing his position on the sofa and shifting the other objects, the boat changes to a canoe, a pirate ship, a submarine. The left page of each spread depicts the boy playing on the couch; the right side reveals his imagined scene.

Eventually, mom’s vacuum appears—a sea monster?—and then she drifts into the scene. In the end, mother and son sit on the rug as she reads him a book—something about a boat, of course. This book reminds us of the power of books and simple household objects to inspire creative minds.

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