In The Specific Ocean, Kyo Maclear, author of the celebrated picture books Virginia Wolf and Julia, Child, teams up with Montreal illustrator Katty Maurey for a tale of inner harmony and connection with the natural world.
A young girl unwillingly leaves the city to spend the summer with her family in a boxy house on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. She finds herself surrounded by nothing but the “never-ending roll” of “dull, droning, dreary water” and makes a “moping schedule” to help pass the days. By summer’s end, however, she dreams of the ocean’s expanse and feels its soothing influence shrink and scatter her worries. Although she’s reluctant to leave, the girl discovers that the water’s mysterious calm now dwells in her very being, and she can carry it home with her.
Maclear’s text begins with a blunt tone, mimicking her subject’s closed demeanor. But as the girl explores the water and shoreline, the text expands and relaxes, with words that echo the sounds and rhythm of the waves (“splish, swish, splosh, splash … wash, swash, splush, hush”). Maclear sets a pensive mood by posing childlike questions that are left open-ended (if there were no oceans, would the moon lose its mirror? Would the coasts bump together?).
Maurey’s mixed-media illustrations reflect the girl’s need to connect with and take ownership of a specific part of her physical world. The grey, blue, white, and pink palette of the ocean is referenced in the family’s clothes, making the setting and characters visually harmonious. While mostly rendered with summer-haze dreaminess, the illustrations also include more substantial elements. As the girl imagines herself exploring the mysteries of the ocean, Maurey depicts her swimming with a flashlight through the dark depths, and includes a double-page spread of labelled ocean creatures such as the dumbo octopus and the firefly squid.
Due to be published near summer’s end, when many will be returning from slower-paced vacations to the hustle and bustle of school and work, The Specific Ocean serves as a timely reminder that the mysteries and wonders of nature can be carried with us, no matter how busy we are.