Sometimes very, very early in the morning, just past midnight, the sight of the moon in the crystal clear air of October is marvelous and a bit magical. It casts a glow unlike any other light. Everything it touches is seen anew.
In her newest gift to readers, author illustrator Molly Idle takes us into watery depths. There reside legendary creatures, caretakers of the sea. Pearl (Little, Brown and Company, October 9, 2018) is about one of the smallest residing there who yearns to join the others with a special task of her own.
In the vast sea of blue,
some mermaids watched over the waves
breaking upon the endless beaches.
Each of the mermaids acts as guardians of the sea. They may care for the coral reefs, vast swirling kelp, or enormous living beings. One day Pearl asks her mother to allow her to be a protector. She believes she is big enough. Her mother agrees.
Together mother and daughter swim and swim and swim until they break to the surface. Spread before them is a sandy beach stretching as far as the eye can see. Pearl's mother tells her this expanse is for her but . . .
When her mother gives her a single grain of sand under her care, Pearl is stunned. How can her mother give her this tiny task? Now alone on the beach, this mermaid wonders about her worth. Pearl swims and swims and swims back to the bottom of the sea heartbroken.
Pearl is angry at the grain of sand holding it tightly in her hand. Wait! A soft glow is shining between her fingers. It only gleams when her hands are closed around the single grain of sand. When she opens her hand to look at it closely, Pearl can see it's different.
Day by day, night by night Pearl tends to this single grain of glowing sand. It begins to grow and grow and grow until it lifts Pearl and her now happier heart toward the surface of the sea. The watched becomes watcher.
Reading the sentences penned by Molly Idle in this story is like walking along a sandy beach under the light of the moon with the waves quietly lapping along the shore. Each word is a reflection of the world in which Pearl lives.
. . . towering forests of kelp rising from the ocean floor.
A wave of disappointment washed over her.
Molly mixes dialogue with her narrative to connect us on a more personal level with Pearl. This also allows us to see the wisdom in her mother's decision. At one point in the story Molly uses alliteration with verbs to marvelous effect. Here is another passage.
Her heart grew heavy,
and the weight of it pulled her
down . . .
down . . .
down . . .
. . . where the salt of her tears mingled with the sea.
The luminous hues of blue spread across the opened dust jacket from flap edge to flap edge. The elegant font for the title text is a lovely hint of the beauty unfolding in this story. (The jacket features matte lamination with a pearlescent ink and embossed type.) The waves of Pearl's hair are designed to be framed by the opened shell. On the spine a tiny Pearl is diving toward a tiny glow at the opposite end. To the left, the back of the opened shell has a glow around it. The words above it read:
Sometimes the tiniest light
can shine the brightest. . .
Removing the jacket reveals a book case in hues of blue going from light to dark from the bottom to the top. On the right Pearl floats, her head bent down. She is looking at the now glowing grain of sand in her cupped hands. The opening and closing endpapers are a reversal of the shades going from light to dark from the top to the bottom. A page turn reveals a breathtaking view of Pearl rising from the sea as the curve of a huge wave moves toward an expanse of beach.
Each double-page picture is brimming with animation and emotion. Rendered with Prismacolor pencils on vellum-finish Bristol Molly Idle takes us into an extraordinary realm. The mermaids' color and hair formations mirror the portion of the sea under their care. Molly shifts the perspective causing us to pause page turn after page turn. Sometimes we are going up and sometimes we are floating without moving. Sometimes we see the sea in a larger view, other times we move in close noting the facial expressions on Pearl. We watch as the colors of the sea grow richer and deeper as day turns to night.
One of my many, many favorite illustrations is of Pearl sleeping in the opened shell. The dark waters of the sea surround her drifting with light and shadow. On the right the base of the shell is several shades of midnight blue. On the bottom of the opened shell is a lush rose, a bit lighter than Pearl. She sleeps holding the growing grain of sand (pearl). Peeking from the top of the opened shell is her mother.
Pearl written and illustrated by Molly Idle is one of those books which wrap around you in pure eloquence. Through the adept blend of words and images we feel a deep connection to Pearl. This makes us gasp at the conclusion. I am sure this story will invite conversations about size and purpose. In pairing this book with Grace Lin's A Big Mooncake for Little Star you can begin a discussion about origin tales. I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.
To learn more about Molly Idle and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name. Molly maintains accounts on Instagram and Twitter. Her Instagram account is loaded with artwork and sketches from this book. The cover reveal for this book is at A Fuse #8 Production, School Library Journal, hosted by Elizabeth Bird. You will find the interview interesting. Molly Idle visits Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast hosted by author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson. She talks about this book and her artistic process. It's a fabulous post. There is a video book chat with Molly at the publisher's website.