Moonfish by Graeme Base
Puffin Books, 2019. ISBN: 9780143791409.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: China, Fable, Family, Dragons, Power. A stunning modern fable using Chinese symbolism, paralleling stories of foundlings, this story by Graeme Base is luminous in its depiction of growing up as an outsider. The wondrous illustrations encapsulate the story, wrapping it in the most detailed landscapes of life above and beneath the sea overlaid with the warmth of family.
An elderly couple finds a foundling fish and raise it as their own. He is bullied at school because he is different and leaves to find a place where he belongs. He asks those he meets: a frog, a dragonfly and a group of eels, concluding that they do not know either and he decides to head back home. When he reaches places that are familiar, he is relieved, but he sees herons overhead. With that he turns into a dragon, the ancient Chinese symbol of good luck for those worthy enough to deserve it, and reaches out of the water towards the birds, scaring them off forever. Now his family is at peace, and never need fear the heron again, and he is home.
The ethereal world beneath the water's surface is simply awe inspiring. Shades of blues and greens permeate each page. A panda like fish hides in the background on several pages; we spy Chinese symbols and buildings, lanterns and bridges, Chinese script on the blackboard, the frog sits on a wonderful seat, a tea set behind him. The dream world Base creates is meticulous in its detail and interest, creating a world that begs to be discovered and examined.
Base has produced a timely fable about family, of belonging, of the kindness of strangers, of standing up for yourself, of finding your place. I kept on reading and looking, gleaning more of the dream like world he has created, pondering the creatures drawn, the background against which they live. The yin and yang symbols on the endpapers entwine the dragon and the fish, each dependent on the other, playing a part in the peace the dragon has wrought to his world.