Chloe Savage’s debut picture book opens with a map of the Arctic Circle. By the time I had oriented myself to this unusual perspective on the globe (and spent a moment appreciating how close the continents—and their diverse cultures—really are), I was in love.
The Search for the Giant Arctic Jellyfish follows Dr. Morley’s mission to find the elusive titular creature. While searching, she and her crew discover many marvels of the Arctic—except the one they’ve set out to find. Will they leave without completing their mission? This is certainly the story of a quest, but it is also about determination, teamwork, hard work and the beauty of the natural world. And it is really, really cool.
Savage’s brilliant art is slightly muted, with colors that have a retro feel despite the contemporary setting (we see laptops in some scenes), giving the expedition a legendary aura. Early spreads provide a sense of preparation: The title page has a classic flat-lay image of well-organized Arctic exploring gear, and the fully stocked ship is shown in a fascinating cut-away, revealing charming and humorous details and telling myriad stories of life aboard. Throughout the book, we return to these cut-aways to observe the crew of scientists, divers, sailors and the captain as they read maps, eat cakes and wait in line for the shower.
The story is told in present tense, with the direct and determined spirit of a captain’s log. Savage captures the depth of Dr. Morley’s passion and courage, her crew’s faith and frustration, and the pride she has in her team. Despite being surrounded by frigid waters and potential dangers, life aboard the ship feels cozy and safe. But the boat has nothing on the mesmerizing world that surrounds it—the flora and fauna, the colossal icebergs and enchanting northern lights. Savage’s underwater images, awash in deep, saturated blues, are worthy of framing and hanging.
With stunning artwork, just the right amount of narration and a hint of irony, The Search for the Giant Arctic Jellyfish is the story of a female captain working to discover and appreciate all that the Arctic Ocean has to offer. Dr. Morley’s quest may continue, but the search for your next favorite picture book ends here.