Here in the States, we picture book readers often get to see imports from overseas, but Taro Gomi’s Over the Ocean is one we’re seeing nearly 40 years after its original publication in 1979.
On pages featuring a palette of cool teal and copper hues, readers see the same girl as from the cover, always from behind, standing with her hands clasped behind her back. She never moves from her spot on the shore, as she stares out across the vast ocean. We also see a ship moving its way across the water (with the exception of the title page and final page), far out from the girl’s spot on the sand.
The girl wonders what is over the ocean. Are there big farms? Cities full of tall buildings? She imagines children on the other side, living in small houses; animals she has perhaps never seen; a child sleeping under a sky full of stars; and more. In the end, she wonders if there is a beach, right on the other side, just like hers. She wonders, “Is someone walking along it?” Could someone be standing there, just as she is, looking out at her? The book is dominated by these questions but wraps up with a wish—that she could travel and see. Here, in the book’s final illustration, she imagines herself in a hot air balloon. She’s finally over the ocean itself, instead of standing at its edge. No longer left to wonder, in her mind’s eye she is out in the world, ready to explore.
Yet, the reader gets the sense that the wondering alone will suffice for now. She has the abundant curiosity of a child, and Gomi gives her an authentic child’s voice, straightforward and vulnerable. In one spread, the girl wonders if the children on the other side of the world are friends, noting, “I bet there are probably some bullies.”
This story makes for smooth sailing and good reading, especially for contemplative children, filled with questions about the wider world.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.