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Below the brine, the salty waters of the sea, is a wonderland waiting to be explored—its wide array of plants and creatures different but not wholly unlike those that can be found on land, in the world above. Nineteenth-century poet Walt Whitman's classic verse employs the language of his day to express the wonder that is timeless, while the surrealistic imagery of James Christopher Carroll's art inspires readers to dive in for a close look.
Bank Street's Best Books of the Year 2022 9-12-years-old List –Bank Street College of Education, 2022
Poetry, 32 pages, 2020
Illustrator James Christopher Carroll sets a stanza of free verse by Walt Whitman amid dreamlike submarine scenes in “The World Below the Brine”, a picture book for children ages 3 to 7. “Forests at the bottom of the sea, the branches and leaves,” we read as in the illustration a boy who has left his boat disappears into backlit depths, having caught the tip of a mysterious tentacle. Colorful shapes move in the water around him; the feeling is one of wondrous adventure rather than fear or danger. This peaceful, meditative mingling of art and poetry offers young children a pleasant, if enigmatic, acquaintance with one of America’s 19th-century literary greats.
–The Wall Street Journal, September 2021
Whitman's classic and ageless poem becomes an adventure fantasy featuring a young swimmer clad in shorts and a t-shirt, whose appearance shifts to reflect or enhance a given scene's tone or message. In one spread, the swimmer has jellyfish-like transparency that reflects filtered twilight; in another, the swimmer is a black silhouette exploring deeper, darker waters. The eerily compelling combination of artistic techniques conveys the mystery and wonder of backlit, murky ocean depths. The dynamic and deft visuals mix the fluorescence of black light posters, the childish appeal of black paint and crayon scratch art, and the ethereal power of stained glass. Varying perspectives range from close-ups of the coral-laden ocean floor to a sperm whale spouting water far overhead on distant waves. When the young swimmer gets too close to "the leaden-eyed shark...the hairy sea-leopard, and the sting-ray," the art makes clear the "passions there, wars, pursuits, tribes, sight in those ocean-depths." Tensions rise amid the aggressive creatures until a fantastical sea serpent sweeps up the young swimmer for a safe return "to the subtle air breathed by beings like us who walk this sphere." Lovely inspiration for artists and ocean-lovers of all ages.
–Children's Literature, September 2021
Whitman’s poem is set to a lush and stunning illustrated world. While the language of Whitman’s 1860 poem may not be as accessible to children as some other picture-book choices, artist Carroll’s illustrations more than compensate. Each line of the poem is illustrated by one or two double-page spreads that both depict the text literally and also convey the mystery and wonder of the natural world that is at the heart of Whitman’s text. Carroll employs varied techniques from one spread to the next: the nebulous forms and blended hues of wet watercolor that depict the bottom of the sea, jellyfish composed of lines so fine they glow electric, an entire ocean patterned with fine swirls reminiscent of Peter Sís’ work. Yet every illustration shares the same haunting eeriness of the deep ocean, a nighttime palette punctuated with explosions of color here or a landscape of colors there. A pale-skinned human child gives the pages a subtle story to follow, diving from a boat to swim the depths alongside existent animals and fantastical creatures alike, then returning to “the subtle air breathed by beings like us who walk this sphere.” A dog watches anxiously from the vessel, ears flapping as the child reemerges, borne up by a sea serpent’s tail. A challenging text made visually and viscerally wondrous. (Picture book. 4-8)
Kirkus Reviews, August 2021