For each person entering the field of education the reasons for doing so are varied. Some believe each generation should strive to make the world better for the next generation. Some know creating life-long learners leads to individuals becoming the best they can be. Others seek to be a positive influence hoping they can make a difference.
What educators quickly learn is children equal hope. We learn as much from them as they do from us. Sometimes they have little or no say in changes affecting their lives but they in turn exhibit extraordinary resilience. Ella & Monkey at Sea (Candlewick Press, August 7, 2018) written and illustrated by Emilie Boon gives us an intimate look at the voyage a child makes from her homeland to America.
Monkey doesn't like good-bye hugs.
He doesn't want to say good-bye to Oma.
Oma wipes away tears and hugs Mama too.
Ella is not happy about boarding the ship with her mother. She knows they are leaving their home permanently. Monkey agrees with Ella.
He does not like the tiny beds on the ship. Thankfully Ella sings a special lullaby that night. At the ship's playroom the next day, Ella and Monkey only watch. When the Captain and waiter approach their table at dinner the companions are polite but without Oma the food, especially the fish, is not good.
Every day in the playroom Ella and Monkey do not play. As the sea gets wilder, the friends get sadder and crankier. Plates slide at dinner and sleeping is impossible as the ship rocks in the howling wind. It's a hurricane!
With all activities cancelled due to the storm, Ella and Monkey use paper and crayons to replicate its ferocity in their room until a broken crayon changes the little girl's attitude. All the new pictures are handed out to the Captain and helpers on his crew. The sun is always shining behind the clouds and they never stay. Ella finally remembers.
Most readers will immediately identify with Ella and her monkey. We have survived countless times of sadness and shared great joy with a beloved stuffed toy. Emilie Boon understands this, projecting Ella's thoughts as if they are Monkey's feelings. Emilie's short, descriptive and direct sentences convey Ella's emotional moods perfectly. Here are another two passages.
The hallways are empty.
The dining room is empty.
The playroom is almost empty,
and there's nothing to watch.
So we try the crayons, I scribble with angry black.
Scared gray. Cold blue. Bluer, grayer, blacker---
until my crayons snaps.
Seeing Ella with Monkey on the ship as it arrives in the harbor allows readers to become acquainted with her in all her cheerful glory. This is Ella being resilient. This is Ella having endured the changes and challenges on the voyage. We can't help but fall in love with this little girl and Monkey. All the colors on Ella radiate warmth in contrast to the pale blues of the water and sky.
To the left, on the back of the dust jacket (I'm working with an F & G.) Ella and Monkey are peering through a porthole looking worried. They are surrounded by the light blue gray of the ship's exterior. Emilie Boon begins her visual story on the title page. Ella's mama, Ella and Oma, her grandmother, are walking hand in hand to the ship.
Rendered in watercolor, graphite, colored pencil, and crayon the visuals alternate between double-page illustrations and full page pictures. On several of the full page pictures there is a liberal amount of white space used to draw our attention to the characters. The delicate lines and intensity of the hues convey and elevate mood. With a few lines and dots Emilie creates facial expressions brimming with emotion.
One of my many favorite illustrations is when Ella and Monkey are tucked in bed on their first night at sea. In this picture we are brought close to them. We can see Ella singing the song while tenderly holding her cherished stuffed toy. In caring for Monkey she is easing her own fears.
Giving up your home, friends and family is never easy but when you leave one country for another the change is huge. Ella & Monkey at Sea written and illustrated by Emilie Boon reveals the heart of a child making this transition. Readers will connect with Ella and her monkey and be inspired by her courage. I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal book collections.
To learn more about Emilie Boon and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website. Emilie maintains an account on Instagram and Facebook. Emilie is interviewed by Vivian Kirkfield at Picture Books Help Kids Soar. Emilie has a guest post at the Nerdy Book Club about this title. At Penguin Random House and Candlewick Press you can view interior images. Candlewick Press provides a Teacher Tip Card here.
UPDATE: Emilie Boon is featured at KidLit 411 on January 25, 2019.