Clarion (HMH), 2019
Hardcover Picture Book, 40 pp.
It’s a classic tale of a child afraid of getting in the water…because sharks. I love that Lottie understands that the shark is only there to eat her, no one else. And damn but it is terrifying. How much sweeter is it, then, when in a puddle’s reflection of her flippers, Walter (a walrus friend) emerges.
Walter ends up going home with her and she discovers they share a lot of the same interests. She also learns that when he sings a song, it calms her down. Turns out it takes an imaginary friend to defeat an imaginary enemy in this picture book.
No, there is not epic battle. Just one disappears and is replaced by the other.
Walker (who admits she was afraid to swim as a child) does not downplay Lottie’s fear, she merely expands Lottie’s imagination and curiosity. There are other creatures in the water; maybe one of them could be a friend—one that doesn’t want to eat you but is ready for play.
Walker’s artwork is simply beautiful. I love the choice of solid red for Lottie’s suit, striking against the white like caution, like boldness. Colors are deep and warm and bright, like childhood and growing things and the sea. The shark in shadows is delicious and the play with Walter is silly and smart (oh, the shampoo in the eyes!).
Walker has a straightforward, no-melodrama way about the story—another way she doesn’t downplay Lottie’s fears. The page where the family is heading to the swimming party is a particular favorite. Lottie and Walter are in the back seat of the small blue car along a residential street with this text: “Lottie didn’t want to be eaten.” And the page that follows, and it’s text: “Everyone was enjoying the pool party. Her mother, her brother, the swimming teacher, the children… and the shark.” The shark was having fun… Huh. Clever. ‘Cause the shark having fun just won’t do. The next page is even more clever, because you’ll have to look twice at that shadow in the water (maybe thrice, if you’re like me).
Walker is easily one of my favorite picture book creators. She’s an absolute must if you like beautiful, intelligent work.
Anna Walker has won numerous children’s book design and writing awards in her native Australia. The artwork and stories she’s created in her Melbourne studio have reached young readers worldwide.