cover image Johnny, the Sea, and Me

Johnny, the Sea, and Me

Melba Escobar, trans. from Spanish by Sara Lissa Paulson, illus. by Elizabeth Builes. Enchanted Lion, $16.95 (124p) ISBN 978-1-59270-409-5

Ten-year-old Pedro is small for his age and constantly gets his hair mussed by classmates “as if he’s a little chihuahua”; one disdainful pupil, Ulloa, even bullies him outright. Evading Pedro’s questions about the whereabouts of his father, his mother proffers a trip to a Caribbean island, where Pedro dreams of encountering pirates and exotic sea creatures. Shortly after they arrive, however, a moment of emotional upset sends Pedro running down the beach, and soon he’s lost. An unexpected encounter with gruff Johnny Tay, a solitary beach hermit, nets Pedro experiences with a loquacious parrot, a breadfruit tree, a feast made on a one-burner gas stove, and, beneath Johnny’s brusqueness, true compassion: “There is even good in bad people, and bad in good people,” he tells Pedro. Translator Paulson (Book of Questions) gracefully incorporates hints of magical realism from Colombian writer Escobar (House of Beauty, for adults)—Pedro grows when he’s happy and shrinks when he’s despondent (leaving him, at low moments, swimming in his clothes). Escobar’s compatriot Builes (The Amazing Students of Venezuela) contributes delicately lined artwork to this tale, which ruminates on the healing presence of a figure who lives life on his own terms. Ages 8–12. (July)