Over the Ocean by Taro Gomi

I remember, at the end of a long day at the Jersey shore, as the sun set and the temperature turned, I stood on the beach with my toes in the water. I was just a child — maybe six or seven — but I had the thought that the water my toes touched was also touching other beaches around the world. Each time I go to the beach, as an adult, as an ex-pat, I have a similar thought. My toes are touching the same water that touches the Jersey shore.

In Taro Gomi’s Over the Ocean, a little girl stands on the shore looking out over a seemingly endless expanse of teal water. A white ship moves slowly, silently, across the horizon, marking the passage of time. Her hair blows in the breeze, but she is otherwise completely still, hands clasped behind her red overall-wearing frame. We never see her face. We do not need to, to know what she is thinking.

The spare text lets us know she is meditating on what is beyond. The space above the horizon in each spread becomes the site of imagining. “Are there farms over the ocean? Maybe there are big farms. Maybe there are cities over the ocean. Full of tall buildings…or small houses. Maybe there are kids living there. Are they all friends? I bet there are probably some bullies,” Her thoughts drift in and out with the waves as they lap the shore. She moves from thoughts about things directly in front of her (the ocean and ships) and the everyday (farms, houses, and children), out to the fantastical (fun rides and exotic animals) and very distant (the night, stars and South Pole), and then comes back to her immediate reality. She finally wonders, “Is there a beach over the ocean, like mine? Is someone walking along it? Is someone standing looking over the ocean…just like I am doing now?”

In the final image of the book, the girl watches herself watch herself as she sails away on a hot air balloon. The white ship has disappeared; time no longer has context; her parting thought is not a question, but a wish, “I wish I could go and see”. We witness a moment of realisation for the girl. Childhood imaginings both set the girl free and highlight the limited radius children (necessarily) have to explore their world. Something tells us, though, that it won’t be long before this girl, too, stands on a foreign shore, toes in the water, contemplating the place from which she has once come.

 

 

 

About Stephanie Cummings

Stephanie Cummings is a former BBC Journalist sharing her lifetime love of children's literature and illustration with her two young daughters -- and now with you, too, through Two in a Tepee. Stephanie has an academic background at the undergraduate level in literature and has master's degrees in both anthropology (material and visual culture) and design. She started her professional life in an art gallery and ended up producing radio programmes for BBC Radio 4, before deciding to become a stay at home mum. She lives with her handsome husband (who is sometimes invited into the tepee) in leafy north London.

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