BLOG TOUR: The Old Boat by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey
We're sailing away with a stunning book as we join the blog tour for The Old Boat...
"The old boat caught wants and wishes, waves and wonders."
What's it about?
A grandparent and grandchild go fishing in an old boat, sailing farther and farther out to sea. With each page turn, many years go by. This is indicated by the boat's passengers getting older, and the ocean growing emptier of marine life and becoming more crowded with rubbish. Yet the boat is constant, always in the same position in every scene where it appears, as everything around it changes.
What can we learn?
A boat can weather any storm when there's love on board. Everyone can make a difference to the world, even if problems seem hopeless or overwhelming. It's possible to make the best of any situation; you can still go fishing without a boat and if life gets messy, you have the ability to clean it up. It's important to have respect for, and take care of, the environment, and we can find peace and a sense of belonging, wherever our family is.
What makes it stand out?
This is a moving, memorable and empowering story. The reader is inspired to make changes in their own lives and to fill in any gaps that might be left by the narrative. The text is like a poem; soothing and lyrical, it gives the impression of being gently rocked in a boat while being read. A circular narrative which begins and ends with images of grandparents and grandchildren fishing together, makes the story even more comforting. The illustrations are extremely unusual and interesting.
About those illustrations...
The illustrations are magnificent. A limited palette, with bright primary colours popping against more muted hues, and a striking use of pattern, make the images incredibly appealing to children. The white of the page is cleverly used, especially in one of my favourite scenes, which is absolutely breath-taking. This features a night sky sprinkled with shooting stars and the glittering lights of distant land. The water is calm as a mirror, as are the boat and its passengers, while jellyfish float below the surface. It's so tranquil as well as beautiful, and I love it.
It's brilliant how the island in the final pages grows more colourful as the pollution is cleared up. The buildings in the background gradually change from shades of brown and grey to bright blues, yellows and reds as the sea is transformed. The return of marine creatures also introduces colour back to the water. The final scene is vibrant and teeming with life, implying the whole island is healthier, happier, and more prosperous, now that the ocean is clean.
Jarrett and Jerome, the author-illustrators, use a combination of manual stamps and digital media to create each image. More than 250 individual stamps are used in their books and you can read more about their technique, and see a video of them at work, on their website.
The effect is stunning and gives the book a hand-crafted appearance - each page looks like it has been created with care and affection.
Why we love it... This is unlike any other book we own. We don't have the one that came before it, The Old Truck, but I will definitely be getting hold of it. I thought my eldest, who is six in a couple of weeks, would be too old for this story. As there isn't much text, I didn't expect it to hold her interest. I was wrong! She loves it even more than her sibling (who is almost four).
The first time we read it, both were mesmerised as soon as the pages started turning, despite complaining that they didn't want a story. Now the eldest insists on reading it to me and her sister, embellishing and making things up as she goes along. She was still gazing at it and turning the pages even after I'd turned out the light last night!
One of the most intriguing aspects of The Old Boat is how the story is told. There is hardly any text, which leaves lots of room for the imagination. Here are some excerpts from a post on the Mackin Community Blog, in which Jarret shares how he and Jerome intentionally leave space so that readers can make the story their own:
"See, when we start work on a new book, we usually start by deciding what parts of the story we want to tell with words and what parts we want to tell with pictures. It’s not always as neat and tidy as that, but that’s the gist. The most rewarding part of the process, though, is deciding what part of the story we want to trust the reader to tell. What part of the story won’t we tell so the reader has space for their own ideas? It’s the most rewarding, but also the most uncertain. We think we’re leaving space in all the right places, but we’re never sure..."
"...We leave space in the page turn between the events of one spread and the next. We have ideas about what happens between spreads, but so do readers. So, we trust them to tell that part of the story..."
"...We like to think of all this space as the space in a picture book where the magic happens. When given the room, it’s the space where the reader can get a story that’s greater than either the words or pictures could tell on their own. It’s the space that rewards rereadings, the space that makes you cock your head to the side and re-evaluate what you thought you knew. It’s the space where the reader can make the story their own..."
I love how this offers so many opportunities to ad-lib and have conversations with children about what might be happening between the lines. There are even a few spreads that are completely wordless. When I asked my kids what they thought of all the litter in the ocean, and how it might have gotten there, the youngest said it was because boats don't have bins! I don't think that's the intended message, but it demonstrates how it's possible for all readers to take their own meaning from the story. In the same Mackin Community blog post, Jarret talks about being asked the following question by a child: “What happened to the grandma? Did the whale eat her?” As well as being amusing, this proves that Jarret and Jerome's magic works.
Why you need it...
Just like the boat in the story, this is a book that will be treasured for generations to come.
It's suitable for a wide variety of ages. The simple text and bold images will appeal to the very young, while older readers will enjoy filling in the gaps left by the author-illustrators. The Old Boat would make an excellent classroom resource and a fantastic prompt for art and craft activities - take a look at @Mrsbrownsbookbox on Instagram for some ideas.
This is an endearing and uplifting story, which despite its simplicity, is charged with emotion. Even the endpapers are poignant, with the little boy carrying an enormous net and the two sets of footprints side by side, one large, one small. I love how it celebrates the bond between different generations of the same family and it would make a fabulous gift from a grandparent to a grandchild. It's brilliant to see Black protagonists as there is currently a lack of diversity in children's books and picture books in particular. All readers will be able to project themselves into the story, however, and imagine themselves bobbing along on the tide.
About the author-illustrator team:
Jarrett Pumphrey has been a storyteller most his life, both on his own and in collaboration with Jerome. While their earliest work remains locked in a drawer - the key long lost for good measure - their first co-authored book, Creepy Things Are Scaring Me, was published by HarperCollins in 2003. A member of SCBWI, Jarrett spends his time writing and drawing in his home near Austin, TX, where he lives with his wife, their two boys, and a dog named Whiskey. When he’s not writing or drawing, you might find Jarrett fishing on a river somewhere or tinkering under the hood of his new old F100.
Jerome Pumphrey is a designer, illustrator, and writer, originally from Houston, TX. He studied graphic design at the Art Institute of Austin and has worked as a technical writer, freelance graphic designer, and illustrator. Since 2016, Jerome has been a graphic designer at The Walt Disney Company. He works primarily from his home office near Austin, TX, where he lives with his wife, daughter, and son. Jerome is a member of the SCBWI and shares a previous author credit with Jarrett for Creepy Things Are Scaring Me (HarperCollins, 2003), which they wrote as teenagers.
Inspired by The Old Boat, Jarrett and Jerome created a series of prints with hand-carved stamps made of plastic recycled from rubbish they picked up on the side of the road and collected from friends and family. They documented the process in the month leading up to the book’s release, and you can see it on their website and Instagram pages. Follow Jarrett and Jerome on Instagram for more updates.
A huge thanks to Norton Young Readers and Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey for having us on the blog tour, and for our gifted copy of this book, which we will cherish. We're also incredibly grateful to Emily of @BooksB4Bedtime on Instagram for inviting us to participate in this tour. We received a complimentary copy The Old Boat in exchange for an honest review - all opinions expressed are our own.
The Old Boat is published in Ireland and the UK on Thursday 1st April by Norton Young Readers - see this book on the publisher's website Take a look at all the other stops on the blog tour to learn more about this beautiful book: