Girl from the sea by Margaret Wild

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Illus. by Jane Tanner. Allen & Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760524302.
(Age: 5+) Highly recommended. The whispers of a young girl, drowned at sea, reveal her longing for life. She sees a cottage by the sea where a family plays on the beach. She spies the cat and dog as she comes to the house, and they spy her. She follows the family as they collect shells along the water's edge. She longs to be with them, walking more closely to the mother. If she lived in the cottage, she tells us, she would sweep the floor, and make the children laugh, but her feet are always in the water. She wonders if they can hear her as she sings in the wind, or feel her as she wraps herself around them, or see her as she stands in the garden.
She is a breathe, a shadow, a murmur of a young girl lost in the waves, as she sighs for what might have been. The animals know she is there, waiting to be petted, and Mum becomes more aware of her presence as she makes her way along the beach, with just the suggestion of a third child by her side.
Margaret Wild's sparse prose give the bare outline of a lost child and what she has missed. Each sentence rings with longing as she sees a life that might have been. She watches the family which could have been hers as they go about the very ordinary things families do when together on a beach. She yearns to be with them, to be acknowledged, to be part of their days.
Readers will fall into Jane Tanner's illustrations, reminding them of times at the beach, playing with their siblings, watching the birds and dolphins, making sandcastles, collecting shells. She has used her darker coloured pencils along with charcoal and a charcoal pencil to develop the most exquisite of beach scenes. Dark and ominous, yet enveloping and comforting, the darker tones emphasise the loss of a child, drowned at sea. Her feet are always in water in Tanner's drawings, her hair wild and unkempt, her look wistful and full of longing. Shells appear on the beach and in their hands, near the gravestone and on the windowsill. The sepia images, sometimes tinged with blue, urge the reader to look more closely, to compare their own experiences at the beach with those before them, to imagine more of the story behind the few words and the images, to fill in the spaces.
This is an outstanding offering from two of Australia's foremost book creators, and will be lovingly read by children of all ages. Themes: Drowning, Sea, Longing, Family.
Fran Knight