I am in love with a nameless little girl made of charcoal dust. She is the sparingly drawn heroine of “Wave,” Suzy Lee’s wordless picture book about a day at the beach, and she bursts from the page with vitality.
Like “The Zoo,” one of Lee’s earlier picture books (which does have a few words), “Wave” shows the world through a child’s eyes. In “The Zoo,” the perspective, shown in brighter colors than the pages representing the adults’ view, is a mix of reality and imagination — there a girl envisions herself sliding down a giraffe’s neck, for example — that suggests closeness to nature. “Wave” emphasizes a similar connection but edges closer to reality; a flock of sea gulls becomes a young girl’s entourage, mirroring her emotions as she plays with the water. They run together from the encroaching tide, the girl’s dress and foot flicking out behind her, then become gradually braver as the wave recedes. Soon the gulls frolic overhead as the girl gains confidence, splashing about like Gene Kelly in a downpour.
Lee’s design is restrained: double-page spreads show a white, flat beach on the left with a few hills in the background lightly shaded in charcoal; the churning water’s edge painted in blue-turquoise and white acrylics on the right; and a pure white sky stretching across both. The girl and her sidekicks, also drawn in gray shades, gradually migrate from the safety of the left side of the page to the unpredictability on the right.
When a big wave finally crashes down on our friend even as she impishly sticks out her tongue, Lee paints a wild tumble of blue and white streaks, splatters and loops emanating from the spot where the girl stood. We see her on the next page propping herself up, with her dress falling down and her hair in her face. But now that she has faced her fear, the scene is suddenly brighter. The girl’s dress and the sky have become the same bright blue-turquoise as the wave itself. A page later we see the girl’s resilience as she and the sea gulls delight in the trove of shells revealed by the wave.
In a story of small events, Lee, a Korean-born author living in Singapore, portrays a universal childhood experience of carefree adventure. She evokes the little girl’s un-self-conscious joy and elicits tender amusement from the reader.