And Mum said to me, “Remember this time. It’s the way life should be.”
The Big Big Sea – Martin Waddell and Jennifer Eachus -children’s book review
Pleased to have found a children’s illustrator who gives her little girls practical clothes, rather than the ubiquitous pink dress, I was in search of more books with Jennifer Eachus’ impressive watercolour illustrations for my daughter, when I discovered ‘The Big Big Sea,’ (Walker Books). This picture book for young children in which a little girl and her mother visit the sea on a moonlit night was originally published in 1994 and re-issued a couple of years ago. It’s a simple tale told and illustrated exquisitely.
Because of the little girl on the cover I imagine many people would think of it as a book for little girls, but just as girls are commonly expected to read books with male leads, so this book is fine for either gender. It’s such a straightforward story that it can be read to very young children, who after all, care not about the gender of characters in books until it is impressed upon them by others that certain books are for girls or boys. I wish I’d bought this for my daughter at a younger age, she received it on her fourth birthday and it feels a little young for her at five.
The story begins with the words: “Mum said, ‘Let’s go!’ So we went …”, the accompanying picture is an almost silhouette of a woman waiting by her daughter as she puts her sandals on. The spontaneous mood develops throughout the pages into a celebration of nature, freedom and the love between parent and child.
The pair cross over a field and under a fence then pause to take in their surroundings before they run to the sea and splash in the water. A double page spread shows the little girl looking up in awe at the moon, and is so well done that the reader must surely pause and appreciate a moment in time. We may not actually be at the sea ourselves, but this is as close as a book can get to taking us there. On the following pages the girl’s face is sheer exhilaration as she jumps and splashes about. Later, she gets cold and tired and is carried back to eat warm buttered toast and fall asleep on Mum’s knee.
The rhythm and repetition in both words and images reflect the rhythms of life and nature. The symbolism of moon and water add to the powerful feminine atmosphere and Eachus’ silvery hues help to convey a profound experience in a moving, almost mystical tale. The characters are not named which adds to the sense of freedom, they could be any mum and daughter on any beach. The fact that the characters are female may seem incidental to some, yet they make powerful role models. I wonder how many women would actually feel safe and confident enough to behave like the mother in the book. Sadly I fear I would be looking over my shoulder for the bogeyman were I to take my daughter down to an empty beach at night.
I doubt that experienced children’s author Martin Waddell set out with the intent of writing a book for feminist mothers to cherish, (although I find it intriguing that he often uses the female pseudonym Catherine Sefton), but against the backdrop of a culture obsessed with looks and body image starting at the toddler stage these days, a book in which a little girl runs around a beach at night feels revolutionary. Waddell and Eachus’ beautiful book conveys an energy of pure joy.