Joint review: Wave and The Zoo

WaveWritten and illustrated by Suzy Lee,
Chronicle Books, 2008; Kane/Miller, 2007 (first published in Korea, 2004).

Ages: 4-8

Korean artist Suzy Lee’s books Wave and The Zoo have received much attention and praise since their publication in the United States. Once you have them in your hands, it’s easy to see why. They do indeed stand out and shine by conveying, wordlessly or through spare text, simple childhood wonders.

In The Zoo, we walk right into the imagination of a little girl on a visit to the zoo. The double-page spreads alternate between depicting mom and dad’s experience of a rather ordinary, gray world, where all the animals seem to be out of sight, and the little girl’s, of a colorful, lively place, where the animals roam free and are perfect playmates. The wee protagonist narrates their stops (“We visited the monkey house, and Bear Hill…”), and the pictures also tell us what the spare words don’t: while exploring the zoo grounds, following the lead of a peacock friend, she disappears from her parent’s sight. After moments of agony, mom and dad find her, asleep on a bench near the gorillas’ cage. Their minds are clearly spinning after their distressing experience but the little one’s spin on the day is quite a different one. She seems convinced that her parents have enjoyed themselves as much as she has––and Lee leaves it to young readers to pick up the inferences for themselves, one way or the other.

In Wave, a wordless picture book of immense presence, a little girl plays at the beach–– her tos and fros on the long stretch of white sand mirroring the rhythmic give and take of the waves. Spare and clever in their depiction of the scene, the simple line illustrations show the little one getting braver and braver – defiant, even, with her tongue sticking out at the ocean–– until a big wave crashes over her, leaving behind a trail of beautiful seashells and a wet, disheveled girl who seems to say: ‘Scary…but fun!’

With both Wave and The Zoo, Suzy Lee gives children enormous freedom to imagine their own narratives and to enjoy them on their own terms. Something they, and the adults in their lives, will very much appreciate.