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Picture Books That Zoom

Posted 6 months ago by Eric P

Picture Books That Zoom

In a fishing village by the sea there is a small house.

In a Village By the Sea by Muon Van

In a Village by the Sea,” written by Muon Van and illustrated by April Chu, tells a seemingly simple story about a family in a Vietnamese fishing village. The story’s told through just a few simple words on each page with the rhythmic, repetitive, cumulative structure of a classic nursery rhyme – think “The House that Jack Built” or “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.”

In that kitchen is a bright, glowing fire.
In that fire is a pot of steaming noodle soup.

But packed into that slice-of-life tale are some pretty powerful emotions and enough narrative complexity to fuel a Borges symposium. Mom’s at home while Dad’s out at sea fishing; in Chu’s vividly detailed drawings, the dog and the baby look pretty carefree but there’s a weary seriousness on the woman’s face that transcends the standard joylessness of domestic drudgery.

By that soup sits a woman, watching and stirring.

Woman and dog from In a Village by the Sea

She’s fretful. Because – we come to understand – when a fisherman goes out to work, there’s a chance he might not come back again. And indeed, as Van’s insistent, progressive structure carries us further into the story, we find the fisherman in his little wooden boat, being tossed by looming, heaving waves turbulent enough to give a person George-Clooney-and-Mark-Wahlberg flashbacks.


In that storm is a white boat, crashing and rolling.
In that boat is a fisherman, hoping the storm will end soon.

But built into the telling of this realistic story are frames and devices that enter the realm of the fantastical, and that serve to cushion the menace of the fisherman’s peril. For instance, when we’re introduced to Dad on his boat in the storm, it’s because we enter a picture being painted of that boat and that storm on a scrap of parchment in a dusty hole under the small house’s floorboards by an unusually skilled cricket.

Page from “In a Village by the Sea,” written by Muon Van and illustrated by April Chu.


We then zoom into a picture of the small house that the tempest-tossed fisherman is looking at to comfort himself, and by way of that picture we’re back inside the house again with the woman and the baby and the dog, cheerful and watching as the fishing boats come home across placid waters.

and in that house is a family waiting for him to come home.

The last thing we see in the book is the cricket completing a very different painting – the little boat floating serenely on an untroubled sea. Was there ever really a storm? Was the fisherman ever in danger? Like any great book, “In the Village By the Sea” raises more questions than it answers. Either way, the woman’s worry was real, and her relief upon seeing the boats return is also ours.

Picture Books That Play With Perspective

One of the sophisticated elements of this book is the way it tells a story by traveling – textually and visually – through time and space, zooming into paintings until their subjects become real, swooping across grand vistas and into tiny knotholes zooming in so that small things appear to be large and large things appear to be tiny. Here are some other picture books that are similarly dynamic and kinetic in their use of perspective:

Flotsam by David Wiesner
Zoom by Istvan Banyai
Re-Zoom by Istvan Banyai
All the World by Liz Scanlon
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan
At Night by Jonathan Bean
A Closer Look by Mary McCarthy
Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins
Big Bug by Henry Cole

"In a Village By the Sea" by Muon Van is just one of the great books on the 101 Picture Book Challenge list.

What is the 101 Picture Book Challenge?

101 Picture Book Challenge - Toledo Lucas County Public Library

The 101 Picture Book Challenge is for anyone at any age. Librarians hand picked the titles on the list which includes classics, new titles and everything in between.

To get started, register online. You can track your progress online or if you prefer a paper log booklet, pick one up at your neighborhood Library. The books are organized into categories but you can read the books in any order and at your own pace. When you read all 101 titles, you earn a free picture book (while supplies last).

This is the latest in a series of blog posts exploring some of the things we love about these books.

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