A group of beachgoers step off a bus to spend the day at the shore. This story belongs to three of those travelers, children who are eager to build a sandcastle but who run into various obstacles along the way. The tide, the wind, other beachgoers — they all topple the trio’s inventive creations. But they don’t give up. Nor do any parents step in to problem-solve for them. It’s a day of play — and determination — with author and illustrator capturing the ways in which children interact with the natural world.
This isn’t the first time Lawson and Leng have collaborated on a wordless tale. You may remember this beauty from early last year. It also occurs to me that this is a second most excellent picture book from this year about children and the ocean; we also have Little Houses from Laura Dronzek and Kevin Henkes. (See here.) Both books manage to capture the exhilaration of being at the shore and the power and mystery of the tides. My favorite part of Lawson and Leng’s book is the closing, as the family takes in, from the bus as they depart, the setting sun over the ocean. Leng brings readers one particularly striking image of waves of dune grass by the parked bus; readers are placed low in the grass, looking up at the bus. On the final spread we see a more panoramic view of vehicles on the road. Behind that is the ocean and, near to the shore, a building — as if a real-life sandcastle.
Here’s the tricky thing in writing about this book: this is one you just need to see — and in its entirety. The way in which Leng paces this story (primarily via panels of various sizes) and the way in which that pacing builds and builds (much like the waves on a shore) is masterful. Her delicate watercolors are intricate; one takes in new details on each read about the children’s adventure and about the beachgoers around them.
Despite the fact that a few spreads don’t quite capture the beauty of the story as a whole (I hope you can find a copy of this one), here are some. ….
A DAY FOR SANDCASTLES. Story concept copyright © 2022 by JonArno Lawson. Illustrations copyright © 2022 by Qin Leng and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts.