Why A Beach Chase is the Perfect Back-to-School Gift
A Story About the Beauty of the Ocean
One of the clearest memories I have from preschool was kneeling on the floor, the gray carpet creating indents in my knees. A jack-in-the-box sat on the floor in front of me. I'd seen the toy in some of my favorite cartoons and had never played with one before. I turned the handle slowly, careful not to distort the song.
A clown popped out with the last few notes.
I was underwhelmed, but smiled anyway.
Across the room, my best friend knelt on the floor, playing with her own toy, her customary braid swinging down her back. We were best friends because we shared a first name.
Throughout K-12 though, we grew apart as friends usually do. But we remained on friendly terms, quietly cheering each other on from the sidelines at each new accomplishment. The most recent of these was Sarah Downie's first published children's book.
Back in high school, middle school, and probably as far back as elementary school, Sarah was the artist in resident, her paintings and drawings worlds better in quality than anyone else's. And last year, she became the officially published author and illustrator of A Beach Chase, an ABC-themed children's picture book about a couple of kids searching the ocean for the mermaid who stole their seashell. But there's a lot more to this book than meets the surface (heh, get it?).
Not only are her illustrations gorgeous, as usual, but they combine with plot and theme to create a truly unique reading experience that leaves kids excited to learn more about the ocean.
I mean, come on. Just look at them!
Granted, I don't know a lot about art, but I know enough to adore Sarah's style. Her characters are adorably rendered with stylized features that give them . . . well, character.
And rather than relying on only the blues and greens of the ocean, they serve as the perfect backdrop to make brighter colors—like the yellows and oranges of the mermaid's hair, Holly's bathing suit, and many of the sea creatures—pop out (like a jack-in-the-box, if you will) and draw the reader's eye.
And, as I'll describe in more detail momentarily, the letters of the alphabet that hold the book's theme together are dealt with subtly and creativity.
Unique Twist to ABC Books
How many alphabet books have you read as a child? And how many of them literally spelled it out for you?
"A is for apple! B is for bear!"
We're all familiar, and they certainly have their place in literature for younger audiences. But Sarah puts a new spin on this genre that makes it more appealing for an older audience.
If someone were to open this book to a random page not knowing that this were an alphabet book, they likely wouldn't realize that there were letters hidden in the illustrations. Sure, they might think that the octopus and the tidal pool were arranged into a very specific shape, but it might take them a minute to catch on.
And what I love most is that the items starting with the letter on that page are not only explicitly mentioned in the dialogue and prose of the story. Many of them are hidden in the illustrations.
For example, the page with the letters "S" and "T" depict seaweed in the shape of an S and a tidal pool in the shape of a T. The prose on that page also reads, "They catch sight of a tail in the seaweed."
Not only do you find alliteration in the writing, such as "sight" and "tail" and "seaweed," but Sarah also included seahorses and turtles in the picture on that page.
This ensures that the reader is fully engaged, hunting for objects or creatures that also start with the letters on that page. And, with the super helpful index in the back of the book, you can quiz yourself on all the objects you found and the ones you might have missed.
It's a wonderful little detail that demonstrates just how much care Sarah put into each of her illustrations. Your kids, siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews will love it!
Meaningful Environmental Story
If you're still not convinced, there's a deeper meaning to Sarah's story than meets the eye. If you don't want the spoilers because you want the book, here's a link to buy Sarah's book on Amazon.
Okay, everybody else still game? Good.
Think back to the last time you went to a state park. You might have seen a sign that said something along the lines of, "Leave this space the way you found it," or "Please practice leave no trace."
I learned that this does not merely mean "Don't litter." It also means that you shouldn't take anything from that environment home with you. Even taking a small rock could disrupt the ecosystem you were in and potentially disrupt your own ecosystem by introducing invasive species.
While A Beach Chase does not delve too deep into this problem, it introduces the concept in a way that children can understand. The main character, Holly, goes to the beach with her friend Logan and finds a seashell to add to her collection. When a mermaid steals the shell, she and Logan search everywhere to find her, only to discover that she's brought the shell to a hermit crab in need of a home.
With this discovery, Holly then offers to share the rest of her collection to the sea creatures. Sarah's character learned that by collecting seashells and placing them in jars on shelves, she makes it harder for a hermit crab to find a home to protect itself.
It's a simple yet elegant plot point that teaches children to consider the impact they have on their community and their ecosystem. They learn that it's better to admire something in its natural habitat than to take it from its home and keep it to themselves. Whether it's a shell, a rock, or a bug, it becomes an object when you put it in a jar and strip it of the role it plays in its environment.
This is an important lesson for children to learn young, and for many parents to learn along with their kids.
In case you missed the link above, here's where you can buy A Beach Chase on Amazon.
And here's where you can check out more of Sarah Downie's amazing artwork.