When standing on the shore at the edge of an ocean, a sea or Lake Michigan, looking to your left and to your right, the sand stretches as far as the eye can see. This sand has been sculpted endlessly by the waves. It awaits eager hands armed with buckets, shovels, found objects and ideas.
For hours, days and sometimes weeks all a solitary soul needs are the water and the sand. Hum and Swish (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, June 11, 2019) written and illustrated by Matt Myers requests our presence for a day at the beach. Like the little girl, we find solace and inspiration.
Jamie and the sea are friends.
Jamie hums. The waves swish.
Curious beach walkers want to know what Jamie is making. She does not know. Another passerby remarks on her ingenuity. Jamie does not know about that either.
People keep asking but Jamie has no answer for them. Sometimes what people say and do, does not make Jamie happy but the sea soothes her. To Jamie the sea reveals answers but never questions.
Her father and mother visit her; each interested in her creations and progress. Her replies are vague. She continues fashioning her beach designs and objects until someone new captures her attention.
She does not ask Jamie anything, but Jamie questions her. The woman's response is exactly what Jamie has been saying to everyone. Jamie and the woman work in companionable silence. When Jamie finally speaks, the woman does, too. They both display surprises.
This narrative written by Matt Myers with carefully chosen words has a rhythm similar to the sounds of the waves washing up and back on the sandy shore. The refrain using the words hum and swish is repeated to supply a seamless flow from one portion of the narrative to another. The dialogue makes the story more personal; we feel a kinship with Jamie in her solitary pursuit. The arrival of the woman adds another layer to the story. While we might be alone in our endeavors, there are others who see and understand us. Here is a passage.
Jamie's mom brings a juice box. "When do you
think you might be finished with your project?"
"Not sure," Jamie says.
Someone else comes.
For those who've ever dreamed of a day near the sea or for those who have memories of days on a beach, the open and matching dust jacket and book case are breathtaking perfection. The waves, the gathered found objects and the little girl crouched and forming something special in the sand is a scene to cherish. The water and shoreline extend over the spine to the left, on the back. A curious seabird is watching the child work.
On the opening and closing endpapers in hues of blue and white, waves move toward the beach. Sunlight peeking through a hazy, cloudy sky casts a glow on the water on the title page. The girl is shown walking along the beach, head bent and carrying one of her discoveries. Her hair blows in the breeze. Across the verso and dedication pages the water washes on the shore as she bends down to start her work in the sand. Nearby people walk along the beach. Others are seated under umbrellas.
Rendered in acrylic and oil paint the illustrations are double-page and single-page pictures, edge to edge. When the text is placed on a crisp white canvas opposite a painting, Matt Myers includes a smaller element; seabirds, one of Jamie's "beings" or a bucket filled with her precious treasures found along the beach. At one point two smaller visuals are placed on a single page to enhance pacing and a shift in the narrative.
Readers will be captivated by the details in each image. Facial expressions on all the people, especially Jamie convey a range of emotions. The use of light and shadow is exquisite. Sometimes Matt Myers will shift his perspective; we might only see the legs of a person questioning Jamie or we move farther back to see an entire beach scene.
One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a single page. It is a close-up of Jamie. She is seated in a small pool connected to the sea. Behind her are some large stones, sand and cliffs with a line of evergreen trees. The faint outline of a seabird is against the fluffy clouds. Next to her is her yellow bucket brimming with wonders. Jamie is holding a scallop in her hands. A look of joy and content is evident on her face.
Hum and Swish written and illustrated by Matt Myers is a luminous portrait of the solitary bliss of creativity, of the wonder of spending time with sand and the sea and of meeting a kindred spirit. This is a book for summer, trips to the beach, of growing an appreciation for natural wonders, of experiencing peace and being free to be yourself. I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.
To learn more about Matt Myers and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. Matt Myers has a special page dedicated to this book with art and a bit of writing about his process. This is his first picture book as author and illustrator. Matt has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I believe you will enjoy this video about his process.
UPDATE: Julie Danielson, author, reviewer and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast shares process art from Matt Myers, August 23, 2019.