Hector has grown up by the sea. He was raised on his family’s stories about it, and he dreams of spending his life exploring its wonders, as have generations of his family at the marina where they organize deep-sea diving expeditions. Recently, though, his family’s livelihood has been threatened by a greedy, unhappy neighbor. When Hector makes a magical discovery, it seems their fortunes might improve, but the discovery brings unexpected danger, and Hector is determined to set things right. The Secret of the Magic Pearl is an unusual picture book, and its blend of legend, legacy and quest gives it a magic of its own.
At 92 pages, The Secret of the Magic Pearl is more than twice as long as a typical picture book, but author Elisa Sabatinelli’s conversational, descriptive prose keeps things moving forward. Eight-year-old Hector is a wise and earnest narrator, a bit of an old soul who relays his story in chapters that read with the immediacy of journal entries. While the plot at times seems a little too convenient, Sabatinelli skillfully builds suspense, so readers will be anxious to find out what will happen to Hector and his charming family.
The most enchanting aspect is Iacopo Bruno’s artwork. Colorful and shrewd, Bruno’s illustrations flit in and out of the story, often tucked in amid columns of text, and their every appearance is worthy of attention. Adroit character sketches serve as visual asides and are enhanced by the clever inclusion of sea creatures as marine personality extensions. Every time we see Hector, for example, he is accompanied by a sweet-faced fish who wears an expression of curiosity, while the book’s villain is hounded by a dead-eyed fish skeleton. Detailed sketches of diving equipment, treasures from the sea and other flotsam and jetsam add a tangibility to the story’s cozy Italian seaside village setting. Nautical flags, anchors and a color scheme dominated by yellows, reds and blues give the book visual cohesion.
Lengthier than the average bedtime storybook, The Secret of the Magic Pearl nonetheless has all the makings of a splendid bedtime tale: adventure, danger and a well-earned happily ever after. Readers with a little bit of patience are in for a unique treat.