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Children's Books
June 14, 2008; Page W10
By Suzy Lee
Chronicle, 34 pages, $15.99

All that's needed for a child to have a glorious romp on the beach is: (a) a child and (b) a beach. All Suzy Lee apparently required to create this joyful picture book about a little girl's day at the beach was a bit of charcoal, two shades of watercolor and some paper. The result is "Wave," one of the simplest and most charming wordless picture books to come along in ages. In the opening drawing, a small girl races from the left across the sand toward the center of the book, a place known to publishers as the "gutter" (and to the rest of us as "the bit in the middle, where the pages join"). This is important, because the artist cleverly uses the gutter to mark the point where beach and girl meet cerulean sea. Waves (and girls) being what they are, there's a certain amount of humorous splashing back and forth over this line. At first, though, all is tranquil. The child stands at a careful distance from the soft, lapping waves, but you can tell from the way she is leaning forward that she is longing to touch them. Behind her there is a phalanx of beady-eyed seagulls that acts like a comical Greek chorus. As the girl builds up her courage and leaps into the waves, the birds flap enthusiastically around her, but when the sea gathers itself to give the unsuspecting child a good soaking, we see the gulls traitorously zoom off with only one beady backward glance. At day's end, when the girl walks away with her mother, she turns to bid farewell to the sea with -- what else? -- a wave.

-- Meghan Cox Gurdon


Alphabet Soup/ The Sunday Times, Singapore 
By Suzy Lee
Chronicle Books/ Hardcover/
40 pages/ US$10.87
(S$15) from
or $22.95 (without GST) in bookstores next month

Korean artist Suzy Lee did not want her art to be confined in galleries, so she decided on a medium that was more available, popular and inexpensive.

'Think books in the place of canvases,' says the 34-year-old, who is the author and illustrator of seven children's books, most of them wordless and paying close attention to the aesthetic.

Her latest, Wave, and the first to be published in Singapore, revolves around a familiar seaside experience: approaching and then retreating from waves as they roll and spill on the beach.

With a discerning eye for shades of colour, she fuses bold charcoal strokes and acrylic painting into a spread of white, blue and black that is soothing balm for the eyes.

The results are textured and layered, but the artist's intention is to produce more than just a children's book.

Lee, who received her bachelor's degree in painting from Seoul National University and a master's degree in book arts from Camberwell College of Arts, London, explains: 'Book arts is derived from the conceptualist branch of fine art. Book artists like myself focus their energies on concept, which includes the choice of the book's shape.'

She resents the identical look of books on bookshelves: 'It's such a turn-off that almost every one of them looks the same.

'I wanted Wave to be long horizontally, wide and panoramic, the same as when we face the sea in real life.'

It is evident that she has taken into account every physical detail of the book itself, right down to the fold between opposing pages.

A little girl inches across the centre of the book, which acts as a shoreline marking the separation between land and water, to the right-hand page side to encounter the sea.

The effect is reminiscent of one of Lee's earlier books, Mirror (2003), where the fold functioned as a border between reality and illusion.

'It's not as simple as left-hand page or right-hand page for me, though my concepts may be a bit ambitious for children's books,' she admits.

But such ideas could ensure that as the readers grow, the book will grow with them.

Written by  Bernard Koh
Sun, May 18, 2008
The Sunday Times  
This article was first published in The Sunday Times on May 18, 2008.



Children's Review: The Wave

The Wave by Suzy Lee (Chronicle, $15.99, 9789811859240/081185924X, 40 pp., all ages, June) Shelf-Awarenss

If it is possible to capture in book form a child's first flirtation with the sea, Lee (The Zoo) does it here. Because there are no words to describe that initiation, Lee uses none. Instead, her charcoal pencil depicts a girl on a vast beach running from her mother's side to the water's edge. Five seagulls line up behind her as a blue wash of water--the book's only color--slides peacefully toward her. A few bubbles of white suggest the outlines of a row of quiet waves, while a gray watercolor wash outlines the moist footprint the waves leave behind. As the girl grows more courageous, the water becomes more forceful. A cascade of blue bubbles begins to rise above a horizon line emphasized by the book's overlong format. In a brilliant use of the gutter, Lee stops the wave, even as it rises in height and power, at the center of the spread--just shy of where the child menaces the wave or sits feigning boredom. After several of these exchanges, the child bravely steps over the gutter and into the wave; a line of blue bubbles indicates a gleeful burst of splashing and frolicking. The blue tinges the wings of the gulls, and soon the wave gathers to a height greater than the girl's, taking on a watery human posture. A joyful game of tag ensues, in which the wave chases the girl landward; feeling safe, she sticks out her tongue, hands on hips. But her respite is momentary. The frothing, bubbling blue overtakes the next spread, with no sign of the heroine. When the wave recedes, it leaves behind a world engulfed in blue--blue sky, blue splashes on the beach, even the girl's dress is now blue. But the salty sea also leaves behind its treasures: starfish and seashells, plenty for both girl and gulls to pore over. As her mother comes to fetch her (blue shoes in hand), the girl sees her reflection in the sea. Lee suggests that both the girl and the ocean have been altered by this experience. On the final spread, the heroine waves to the sea, as the sea sends waves back toward the girl, and the gulls fly off into the sunset. In 40 wordless pages, Lee captures the fascination, awe and ongoing sense of wonder that the ocean inspires in each of us, no matter how old.


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