On the northwestern side of the shores of Lake Michigan, wanderers can expect a sensory experience. If you close your eyes, you can still feel the sun, a breeze, steady drops of rain or the grit of sand on your feet. You can hear the sound of waves on the beach, the screech of water birds, the barking of dogs or the laughter of children. Breathe deep the odor of beach grass, flowers and wet sand. When you reach to pick up a stone or piece of driftwood, the texture is smooth.
If you are most fortunate, an unexpected hue different from the natural tones of beach, seaweed, wood or stones will grab your attention. It may be a faded shade of blue, green, brown, white or even red. You have discovered beach glass. Sea Glass Summer (Candlewick Press, May 21, 2019) written by Michelle Houts with illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline is about a memorable summer of discoveries, dreams and stories.
Some years ago, a boy named Thomas spent the summer at his grandmother's island cottage.
Early during this visit, Thomas's grandmother gifted him with a magnifying glass which had belonged to his grandfather. Thomas loved to look at found objects through that magnifying glass. As they walked along the shore, his grandmother found a piece of sea glass.
Thomas was intrigued by her explanation of the sea glass's possible origin. He was even more fascinated by a saying his grandfather had about sea glass. A story was attached to every piece.
During the night, Thomas dreamed about the story attached to that piece of sea glass. It had to do with the christening of a ship in the United States Navy in 1944. The broken green glass of the champagne bottle fell into the water.
All during the summer Thomas longed to find sea glass and dream of the stories bound to each one. On his last day on the island, the boy searched and searched for sea glass, hoping for one more dream and one more story. There was no sea glass. There was no dream. There was no story. Life has its own way of making our wishes come true even if it takes decades and another summer of sea glass sightings, dreams and stories.
Memories made in summers are memories, many times, to be cherished. Author Michelle Houts uses found objects to present stories within a story. She skillfully weaves history into the not-too-distant past bringing readers to the present. Through a blend of text and dialogue, she shows readers stories are everywhere and we are tied to each other through the marvelous manner in which stories work. Here are portions of two connected passages.
Once Thomas found a real treasure: a large chunk of sea glass with a few letters---SON---just barely raised on its surface. Thomas wondered what word the letters might have been a part of and what story this piece of glass might tell.
When Thomas slipped between the cool sheets that night, he dreamed of wind and waves and a terrible storm.
The captain's shouted orders could barely he heard over the roar of the wind as men scurried to their stations.
"Lower the sails!" . . .
When readers look at the open and matching dust jacket and book case they are given a glimpse into Thomas's summer adventure on the front through a realistic depiction of a rocky island seashore and a peek at one of his dreams on the back. Bagram Ibatoulline's attention to detail and color palette are nearly photographic. We get a very real sense of Thomas's excitement and purpose on his daily beach hikes. Listen and you will hear the waves fall on the shore.
To the left, on the back, using one of the hues in the sky as a canvas, a small circular portrait is outlined in a thin red border. A woman from the past is smashing a bottle of champagne against the side of a ship. We can place her at a certain point in history by her clothing. Above and below this image are the words:
They say that each piece of sea glass
has a story all its own.
Just imagine the tales the ocean might tell.
The opening and closing endpapers are the same blue as the sea on the jacket and case. On the initial title page, a single sea gull flies above the text. For the formal title page we are brought close to a group of shells, sea glass and pebbles resting on the sand. This illustration is between the text.
Each image rendered in watercolor by Bagram Ibatoulline is a stunning representation of moments not only in this story but also of the past. Readers can tell by the architecture, clothing and vehicles in which time period the scene is placed. Bagram Ibatoulline alters his perspective and picture sizes to heighten the emotional intensity of the narrative.
On the first double-page picture we are given a large view of Thomas's grandmother's cottage on the island beach. She is hanging towels on the porch railing while Thomas skips a stone into the sea from the shore. In the next single page picture, it's as if we are looking up those cottage steps as Thomas walks down. His grandmother stands at the top looking out at the sea, a hand raised to shade her eyes. Opposite this, text is placed on a wooden-like surface and framed in a fine blue-gray line. The picture there is a close-up of the magnifying glass and a clamshell.
When Thomas dreams, those paintings are done in shades of gray. The text for his dreams is framed and placed on the left or right over the double-page picture. Several wordless illustrations tell their own powerful story. After an initial reading, it's a given readers will go back and look at the visuals more closely, noting the beautiful use of particular elements like the color of Thomas's tennis shoes.
One of my many favorite illustrations is at the end of the summer. It is a single-page picture. The sun has set. Breathtaking shades of pale orange, pink and purple color the sky and sea. The rocky beach is close to us but stretches back and to the left giving us more than one point of view. Thomas in his familiar clothing has added a denim jacket. He is carrying the magnifying glass as he bends over, looking intently for one final piece of sea glass.
Sea Glass Summer written by Michelle Houts with illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline is a marvelous integration of the past and present through thoughtful, truthful words and exquisite artwork. This title captures the magic of summers then and now and connects them and other events through story. There is a soothing harmony in this book. I highly recommend it for your personal and professional collections.
If you wish to discover more about Michelle Houts and Bagram Ibatoulline and their other work, please access their websites by following the links attached to their names. Michelle Houts maintains accounts on Instagram and Twitter. At the publisher's website you can view an interior image. They also have a special page with a note from the author. At Penguin Random House you can see several initial pages.