Alexandra Saunders admires Linda Jane Keegan’s debut picture book Things in the Sea are Touching Me, for many many reasons. The bright, crisp, clean illustrations by Minky Stapleton, the two mums, the rhyme scheme – find out what else!
Things in the Sea are Touching Me! is a delightful debut rhyming picture book by Linda Jane Keegan, featuring a young girl and her mothers at the beach for a swim.
The bright, crisp, clean illustrations by Minky Stapleton perfectly invoke a New Zealand beach without cliché: the family are alone, islands in the distance, they’re just here to swim. But who’s in the sea with them is of course the great mystery, and the discoveries are thrilling and surprisingly educational for all ages.
The opening rhyme starts off simple enough, very much part of the Scholastic canon. But as they enter the water, our hero is startled to find something touching her and the rhythm settles into a wonderfully complex, jaunty rhyme which couldn’t help but make me think of Dr Seuss.
… as they enter the water, our hero is startled to find something touching her and the rhythm settles into a wonderfullycomplex, jaunty rhyme which couldn’t help but make methink of Dr Seuss.
Kind, calm parenting helps reassure her at every fright while sharing knowledge about Tangaroa’s children. This premise is so simple and relatable I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before. Reading it out loud to my youngest on the train home, a number of both adults and children remarked ‘That’s happened to me!’ as the book hit its stride, capturing our listeners in an ocean of common ground. It’s this commonality that belies the book’s unique position of being the first New Zealand picture book to feature two mothers, Mum and Ma.
Neither the text nor pictures shy away from this, as Mum and Ma stroll along the beach hand in hand. Stapleton has done a stellar job giving them each a unique personality even though, like many other children’s books, only one parent is active in most of the text. There’s no reason why she couldn’t have been a “Pa” or for that matter, the parents could easily have been “Dad and Pa”. But they’re not, and in the world of picture books where even animals tend to default to male (try reading another Scholastic book, The Hungry Bear by Nick Bland, without getting the two male bears confused) there is something truly delightful about reading a book full of colourful, active women.
This isn’t a political book, there’s no “lesbian agenda”. The makeup of the family is background to the story, not the story itself, like countless other picture books featuring heterosexual parents. One could question if it matters. But we know, undeniably, it does. LGBTQI families exist and their representation in media matters. I found myself, as a queer mother married to a woman, surprisingly moved. On the final page, Ma sends a knowing look out to her partner and I saw myself in her in a way I haven’t ever before in New Zealand picture books. I asked my youngest what she thought about the two mums, and she simply said they were both pretty, but she liked the pink one best. Which just goes to show, really.
On the final page, Ma sends a knowing look out to her partner and I saw myself in her in a way I haven’t ever before in New Zealand picture books.
The pink one gets some wonderful dialogue. As Mum gets on with swimming deep under the waves (my youngest was incredibly impressed by her ability to swim underwater with both eyes open) Ma is there to help and support her daughter as she enters the waves, encountering Thing after Thing as they go deeper and deeper. And Things they are. ‘Some thing in the sea is touching me!’comes the cry, much more terrifying than just any old ‘something’. In a perfect example of the Seussian rhyme, Ma replies:
“Don’t worry,” said Ma,
It’s only a seed,
From mangroves afar
And the thing that they need
Is someplace to land in,
All squishy and soft,
In which they can grow
And send new pods aloft
Stapleton adds a vibrancy to the Things. Unknown they look like clawed hands, stretching out from the depths, but once discovered they’re clearly depicted (and as far as I’m aware quite accurately) while somehow being fun and, dare I say, kind of cute. Our characters are shown clearly even below the waves, in a wonderfully fantastical spread we see them deep amongst the sea weed and ika. Both mothers have warm, wide smiles and are clearly enjoying their day out – or at least, until the fun twist at the end, which will have you smiling widely, or, if my kids are anything to go by, laughing out loud.
This book is a rip-roaring rhymer for all ages. I bought this for my four year old but caught my ten year old sneakily reading and giggling away. There’ll be those who’ll buy it to add diversity to their book shelves, those who want their kids to see more families like their own or their friends’ families and those who’ll gift it to schools and kindergartens to encourage broader family representation. I bought it because it was hilarious. And I encourage you to do so too.
things in the sea are touching me!
By Linda Jane Keegan
Illustrated by Minky Stapleton
Published by Scholastic NZ
Alexandra Saunders is a writer and mother of two. She runs a girls STEM holiday program and after school group called The GO Club and is a passionate advocate for diverse families, kids with special needs and girls in STEM.