Wiesner, David. FLOTSAM. New York: Clarion Books, 2006. ISBN: 9780618194575.
Without words, this saturated picture book tells many inter-related stories by capturing moments at the beach and under the ocean. The story is of a young boy at the beach who is intent on seeing the world around him. He finds an old camera and develops the film only to find more visual clues to life in the ocean than he’d ever imagined. Among the pictures, he finds one of the camera’s last owner, a little girl like him, holding a picture of the owner before her—who is also holding a picture of the owner before.
Using many shifting perspectives—a camera, a microscope, the unaided eye, a bird’s-eye view—Wiesner tells magical stories that draw connections between people and sea creatures, people of today and people of long ago, people in cold climates and people on other continents all together. Some of his illustrations show an anthropomorphised octopus family reading together on underwater sofas, fish acting as transportation for other underwater creatures, starfish with islands on their backs, and many other imaginative wonders.
Without words, Wiesner is able to include many literary elements in his story: character, climax, flashbacks, foreshadowing, narrative order, plot, realism, setting, suspense, and much more. One example of foreshadowing that I love is the intentional inclusion of the microscope in one of the earlier scenes—which is then used later to verify the original owner of the camera—a boy from colonial times.
Each time a reader returns to these illustrations, there is more to see, more to the story. Many questions are left for the reader to answer from his or her own imagination, but the implicit theme carries to the end, where another adventure begins. Clear detail in the pictures, as well as a comic book style of insetting some illustrations over others, and readable emotions on the protagonist’s face (and the body language of the sea creatures) as he experiences this great ocean adventure add to the overall appeal of this inspirational work.
Starred Review in Booklist: “Wiesner offers another exceptional, wordless picture book that finds wild magic in quiet, everyday settings.”
Starred Review in School Library Journal: “Filled with inventive details and delightful twists, each snapshot is a tale waiting to be told.”
==> Ask the reader to write words for the story (or tell the story) she or he reads in these pictures. Alternately, ask the reader to create a world or a story based on one of the inventive scenarios the camera's pictures present.
==> Discuss the opportunities that varying perspective and scale provide in telling a complete story, in building interest and building drama within the story, and in changing the reader’s perspective as well. Talk about the many different perspectives (near, far, the boy, the crab, the huge starfish, etc) that are represented in this book.
==> Use this book as a jumping off point for research projects—History of the Camera, Under Water Machines, Life Habits of the Octopus, Codependent Relationships of Sea Creatures, etc…
Other great books for children about discovering who lives under the Ocean include: FISH SLEEP BUT DON’T SHUT THEIR EYES: AND OTHER AMAZING FACTS ABOUT OCEAN CREATURES by Melvin and Gilda Berger, 2004; WATER BEDS: SLEEPING IN THE OCEAN by Gail Langer Karwoski, 2005.