Saturday, October 18, 2008

Manfish: A story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Eric Puybaret - review

Manfish: A story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Eric Puybaret
I read this picture book biography of the original too-tan diver/explorer/conservationist/filmmaker, the man who made a watch cap look GOOD, out loud to my two boys yesterday and I have these things to say:
  1. Who knew that Jacques Cousteau was such a genius? I didn't know he invented the aqualung! I didn't know the research vessel Calypso was a surplus French Navy ship! And I didn't know he was such a film guy!

  2. My kids were captivated.

  3. My kids kept begging me to quit with the Marseilles accent.

My friend Molly picked it up this afternoon and enjoyed it just as much as I did. But she said, "I was a little disappointed with the illustrations," and I concur.

I just adored the turn-the-book-90-degrees foldout spread... the reader descends through three pages of undersea illustration as the text describes the "strange and shimmering ocean land of swaying plants and ocean creatures" (and just try reading that out loud without the Sunday night Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau accent!); and I love the endpapers, illustrated with paintings of strips of film. But I would expect a biography of Jacques Cousteau, especially one that emphasizes the role of photography in his life, to be more... vividly illustrated. What we got as kids, watching National Geographic specials, besides a sense of the impact of white as a fashion statement and a strong visual reminder to always wear sunscreen, were images of fantastic creature after fantastic creature looming out of the undersea murk. The illustrations in Manfish are just a bit... tamer than that.

Reading Manfish by Jennifer Byrne

This book is nominated for a Cybils award, and rightly so.

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