CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 17 . . . . January 5, 2018
In Woodrow at Sea, beloved Canadian author and illustrator Wallace Edwards dabbles in the wondrous world of the wordless in hopes of capturing the hearts and minds of a new audience of younger readers. In contrast to his previous works, including Once Upon a Line, The Cat's Pajamas, Monkey Business, and Alphabeasts, which have showcased Edwards' distinctively intricate and flamboyant artistic style, Woodrow at Sea places emphasis on simplicity for the illustrative content.
Unquestionably, there is something quite refreshing in this excitingly new creative direction which Edwards has fully embraced in this latest publication. Although almost entirely unrecognizable from his previous drawings, the illustrations in Woodrow at Sea are masterpieces in and of themselves. Through the introduction of softer hues and unembellished characters, Edwards creates a dynamic contrast between visual simplicity and a powerful, adventurous narrative.
In this wordless tale created entirely in watercolour and ink, readers are introduced to young Woodrow the elephant as he embarks on a boat trip from his island home. Along his journey, Woodrow encounters a mouse stranded at sea whom he instantly befriends and welcomes aboard his rowboat. Together, Woodrow and mouse engage in spontaneous, joyous rounds of singing until a menacing storm arrives and Woodrow is suddenly tossed into the churning waters. Leaping into action, the mouse pulls Woodrow back to safety into the boat, and once the storm has subsided, they travel to mouse's island where his family rejoices in his safe arrival. After some celebratory singing and dancing, the time arrives for Woodrow to return to his own home. After an emotional hug goodbye, mouse begins to tell the tale of his exhilarating adventures at sea to his family, and, upon returning to his own island, Woodrow proceeds to do the same.
Edwards' exclusively visual narrative unfolds effortlessly through the clever arrangement of illustrative content on each page. The imaginative depiction of action through a combination of single, whole page drawings and unframed montage sequences smoothly guides the eye, allowing for easy comprehension and seamless transitions between events. The integration of speech bubbles containing only visual depictions of past events is a clever addition which results in a story-within-story approach, all told from a wordless perspective. Edwards brilliantly captures the emotions of the characters through vibrant facial expressions. Even the storm asserts its own unique persona as the ominous and malicious clouds direct angry winds and lightning towards the innocent protagonists. Readers will undoubtedly enjoy the subtle creative components of the book, such as the circular outline of specific illustrations to mimic the effect of peering through a telescope used for gazing out to sea.
Woodrow at Sea is a fun-filled tale that offers something new with each reread. The wordless nature of the book will enable pre-readers to assume an active role in the storytelling process. Edwards' journey into textless format is truly a treat for new and old fans alike. A beautiful reminder of the joy of a newfound friendship rooted in kindness, Woodrow at Sea is sure to become an instant favourite.
Christina Quintiliani is an Ontario Certified Teacher and Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Education, Brock University, St. Catharines, ON., where she is researching children's literature.