I usually try to review the latest and greatest or upcoming picture books here, but someone told me about this book awhile back, and, well, it’s published by Neal Porter/Holiday House, and that usually means the reader is in for a treat. I missed this one when it came out in 2019, so I’m rectifying that oversight.
Jamie and the sea are friends.
Jamie hums. The waves swish.
There’s something about that wild hair. Something about the wide expanse of ocean. Something about the seabird silently observing this little girl that makes me pause. There’s motion, and the knowledge that waves are making their own soothing, swishing sound in the background. But there’s also a kind of reverent silence. Jamie is busy with the kind of creating that is so similar to what I feel when I’m deep into my writing. An open creative space that allows intuition to take over and pushes aside whatever plans I may have had for my words.
People pass by, asking questions, interrupting Jamie’s flow.
“What are you making there?”
“I don’t know,” Jamie says.
All kinds of people come by, observing, commenting, trying to draw Jamie out.
It doesn’t work. And Jamie’s expression starts to look a little put out. Either she gives them a withering look, or gives them a noncommittal response.
The waves swish. Jamie hums.
We come to understand that one thing Jamie likes about the sea is that it doesn’t ask questions.
Her mom and dad come by with their benign but bothersome questioning, and receive similar responses.
Then someone else arrives. Someone who doesn’t ask questions. An artist who’s setting up to paint. Jamie watches, finds her interesting, and in a sudden turn of events asks the painter what she’s making. The painter’s response?
“I don’t know yet.”
Jamie has found a kindred spirit. The two work in silence next to each other for the rest of the day. Turns out:
Jamie and the sea and the woman are friends.
They both understand that creativity doesn’t always have an answer to questions like What is it? What are you making? When will you be done?—until you’re finished.
I keep re-reading this book, keep loving it’s sparse text that evokes the sounds of the sea, and all that’s left unsaid but understood, and realize that this is the true art of a picture book. Creating a world for the reader to fully inhabit, each in their own way.
Pair this book with Swashby and the Sea. How is Jamie like Swashby? How are they different? What role does the sea play in each of the books? How are those roles different?
If you can, go to the beach and build “something.” Maybe you won’t know what it is until you’re done. If you can’t go to the beach, make your own salt dough island by the sea and add whatever “found” decorations (bottle caps, feathers, buttons, shells, rocks, sticks, etc.) you’d like. Or make “something” with the salt dough, and figure out what it is when you decide you are done.
Make ocean watercolor and crayon paintings.
Title: Hum and Swish
Author/Illustrator: Matt Myers
Publisher: Neal Porter Books, 2019
Themes: ocean, creativity
Ages: Pre-K to elementary school
For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.