cover image Can You Hear the Sea?

Can You Hear the Sea?

Judy Cumberbatch. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-703-5

One Saturday, a young West African named Sarah receives a conch shell from her grandpa. ""If you listen carefully, you'll hear the sea,"" Grandpa promises. But whenever Sarah puts the shell to her ear, what she hears instead is the panoply of sounds that make up everyday life in her village. British author Cumberbatch's deceptively simple text bubbles with eloquence; she has a keen ear for the rhythms of a strong read-aloud. On Monday-laundry day-the shell seems to emit the sound of ""water splashing, Grandma beating out the sheets, and the clothes flip-flapping in the wind."" On Tuesday at the marketplace stalls, the sound coming out of the shell is, ""Mr. Victor's sewing machine click-clacking, Mrs. Nansi's tongue yak-yakking."" When Sarah meets up with Grandpa the following Saturday, she learns she must be very quiet and concentrate in order for the conch to make the sounds of the sea; sure enough, she hears ""waves pounding, pebbles rattling, surf hissing, and the sea's huge roar on the wide seashore."" Wilson-Max's acrylics make an ideal partner for the text: his bright colors, stripped-down characterizations, and thick black outlines may be spare, but they brim with a sophisticated sense of play. As Grandma bends over her wash load, for instance, her generous backside peeks out from a scrim-like sheet that billows in the wind; a few pages later, readers share the perspective of a monkey perched high in a palm tree as Sarah and Grandma walk down a dirt road below. Ages 3-7.