Boyds Mills Press, 2010
Recommended for ages 3 to 5
Gregory and his dad are spending the day at the beach together. Swish-swoosh, up lap the waves onto the sand. Gregory draws a Sandy Lion, with a full mane, four chubby legs, a happy face. His father gently reminds him of the beach rules; “Don’t go in the water and don’t leave Sandy.” On the pages that follow, Greg draws in Sandy’s tail which leads him down the beach, past a purple jellyfish, a sandcastle, a horseshoe crab, and other amazing discoveries on the sand. While getting further and further away from his father under the blue umbrella, Greg never goes in the water and the growing, twisting, curving tail ensures that he never leaves Sandy.
Cooper’s art is gorgeous. Using pastels in beachy taupes, browns, soft purples and blues, he creates a textured effect that defines both the setting and the main character. In this way, the environment and the boy are visually united. Greg and his surroundings are rendered in a subtle soft-focus, which when combined with Cooper’s ability to create a breathtaking balance of shadow and light, lends the overall experience an almost tactile, sensual quality.
There is a double-page spread that features Greg leaning down to inspect a new creature. His face tilts up to look toward the viewer. Sunlight reflects off of the top of his head and is captured twinkling on grains of sand stuck to the side of his chin. There is a slight blending between the borders of Greg and the sand around him, which reminded me of Peter McCarty’s luminous Hondo and Fabian books.
I loved how child-focus the story and art remained throughout A Beach Tail. I know a mom who was initially concerned about a young child being portrayed as straying so far from his parent (and so close to the dangerous ocean.) As a parent, that must be an unsettling, even terrifying, feeling. For the child reader, however, this bit of brief independence and even slight mischievousness (Greg definitely knew he was pushing the limits of his father’s second rule) is where adventure happens. It is only by breaking away from his dad that Greg can indulge his curiosity and discover remarkable creatures and objects on the beach. And yet, he is still tied to the security of his father through Sandy’s tail.
This perfectly balanced depiction of independence and safety is exactly what so many preschoolers and kindergartner’s crave. They want to be a big kid and have adventures. But, it is still important to know that their grownup will be there at the end of the day to welcome them home and keep them safe.