Will you dive down and see?
Will you follow me?
I know you will.
You are brave.
Deep Underwater, by award-winning author-illustrator Irene Luxbacher, invites readers to follow Sophia, who lives by the sea, as she dives underwater to discover its secrets and treasures. In just 139 words, readers are carried into a mesmerizing, yet mysterious world. But even though Sophia’s dive is deep, she is never alone. Along her journey, a little bird friend is always near as she ventures ever deeper to places where “…gassy bubbles burp ancient secrets…”. Most importantly, as Sophia explores further, she also knows she can rely on herself:
Deep down, I never feel alone.
I can always see
A friend in me,
Whose strength lifts me up…
This subtle nod to a child’s self-reliance and inner strength adds emotional depth to the text. While the storyline highlights curiosity and risk-taking and propels young readers to face challenges and the unknown, at the same time, Deep Underwater deftly balances a young person’s need to feel nurtured and safe. In the final double-paged spread, Sophia is comforted by an adult; the little bird looks on as Sophia dreams, holding onto the mirror she found in an underwater treasure chest.
The collage-style illustrations in Deep Underwater consist of full bleed double-paged spreads (including three wordless spreads) rendered in soft shades of marine blues, gold, and red. The mixed-media artwork was created through both traditional approaches using graphite, water colour, acrylic paints, coloured pencils, newsprint, and fabric, and digital techniques.
Deep Underwater is an excellent example of “the very best” in picture books. It successfully achieves that elusive quality of marrying succinct, lyrical text with thought-provoking pictures that expand a storyline. I think readers young and old will especially enjoy returning to this picture book’s textured, imaginative illustrations. These include images of both fantastical objects as well as more true-to-life marine creatures, and the visual art encourages one to pause, linger, and rediscover. Deep Underwater would be a delightful choice for both shared or independent reading. If used in classrooms, it would also be a perfect springboard for initiating ocean-themed discussions and art projects as well as self-reflection activities.
Anita Miettunen is a writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is completing a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia.