I was very intrigued by the concept of an illustration-heavy crossover between picture book and chapter book – The Blue Beyond is a great idea, beautifully executed!
Book: The Blue Beyond by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Bethany Christou
Read before: No
Publication date: 9th July 2020
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Little Tiger. All opinions my own.
The Blue Beyond is a lovely step between picture book and chapter book, with longer chunks of text and a more complex plot to stretch an early reader, but full-page full-colour illustrations to catch the eye and keep the interest. It’s a great idea to get kids to gently level up their reading, without worrying that they’ll be bored by the plainer black and white pages of a ‘proper’ reading book! A typical page looks like this:
The art style is lovely and vibrant, full of little details that should definitely hold the attention. I really like how bright and tropical the whole book feels. There’s a lot of movement in the way the sea creatures are drawn, which makes this feel really joyful to read. The text moves around the pages in different areas of blank space, which also helps to keep this feeling less like a full book. It’s definitely a beautiful book (especially the canvas hardcover).
Story-wise, it strikes a nice balance between the simplicity of a picture book and the expanded details of a chapter book. It’s a fairly simple adventure, with Lana the butterflyfish exploring the sea outside her safe lagoon for the first time, and meeting an array of new and interesting creatures. There’s a little bit of information about each creature and a fun little interaction, leading to a perilous encounter with a shark… but though there’s a bit of danger, the main focus is on the lighter, brighter side of things.
The only slight issue I had was that Lana herself is actually quite rude to the friends she meets under the sea. She has an unfortunate tendency to immediately point out the physical qualities of the people she meets, such as nicknaming an octopus ‘Eight Arms’, or pointing out a sea cucumber’s bottom – I would possibly worry that a child would take this as showing that it’s acceptable to comment on people’s appearance to their face as a friendly greeting, where actually this could get them into trouble! However, I think you could easily use this as a jumping off point to talk about it, especially since Lana’s main companion, the turtle, has a more measured way of interacting with people.
This is a sweet little adventure, and it works really well in the niche it’s carved out for itself. I can see a lot of young readers being thrilled with the beautiful peek under the sea! Four out of five cats (or should that be catfish?)!