cover image OLD SHELL, NEW SHELL: A Coral Reef Tale


Helen Ward, . . Millbook, $17.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-7613-1635-0

A brilliantly illustrated coral reef teeming with clownfish, spiny lobsters and sea slugs dominates this fictional account of a small hermit crab in search of a larger shell. In fact, Ward's (The Animal's Christmas Carol) paintings are so dazzling that the anthropomorphic story pales a bit in comparison. The tale opens lyrically: "In the watery gardens, where sea anemones flowered and fish as bright as butterflies sailed among the coral, there lived a hermit crab!" But the tone is not sustained, and the text is sometimes confusing (for example, the crab laments, "I need a shell... with some of these," but it's very difficult to tell what he is referring to). Some design features can be disconcerting (words are seemingly randomly emphasized with a large font), but the final sumptuous illustration that opens to a four-page panorama is appropriately impressive. The nine-page appendix describes the Great Barrier Reef setting and contains a numbered, smaller version of each painting that links detailed information about the habits and interdependency of the organisms found in coral reefs to many different fish and plants that populate the underwater scenes. Ages 5-7. (Apr.)