Graeme Base, Moonfish, Puffin Books, October 2019, 48 pp., RRP $26.99 (hbk), ISBN 9780143791409
The cover of Moonfish by Graeme Base was the first sign that this was going to be a story of enchantment. There are fish leaping from the water under a full moon, in a wild shadowy landscape.
Anyone who has grown up encountering Graeme Base’s books seems to remember the first-time reading Animalia or The Eleventh Hour among his other incredible works. Base has an astounding ability to not just to tell a story with an illustration, but to also create entire new worlds on a page. In this case, the world is formed within a gorgeous large format hardcover measuring 29.6 cm x 28.2 cm.
When I opened Moonfish, I felt like I slipped underwater into the moonlit world of the fish, seeing it from their fish-eye perspective. Base has created an entire planet within in a pond in Moonfish. Beneath the surface of the page and the pond is an aquatic wonderland of inconceivable snowy mountain peaks, billowing clouds, vast never-ending plains and ancient built structures.
Moonfish is a magical story told in simple words with a powerful message about belonging. Through an echo of ancient folklore, the story centres around a young Koi fish who is adopted when he is found alone after herons have hunted in the pond. He is teased by his peers because he looks different. He feels compelled to leave his home to try to find answers about who he really is.
Some pages are wordless, providing a pause to delve deeper into the achingly beautiful visual storytelling. What I love most is the way that Base has used light in this underwater kingdom. Many of the illustrations are dark with areas illuminated by lantern-like light spilling out from ghosted structures. Rooms are ornately ancient in their architecture. Whether the scene is landscape, temples, windows or the reflection of the moon on water, the attention to light and use of colour is astounding. Vivid colour is used where it accentuates the actual storytelling.
Although very suitable for reading to a large group, the detail in each page begs for close reading. Looking again seems to reveal hidden things, but I am still unsure if some are simply my own imagination! I instantly had two other curious readers by my side, jostling to see. You may need multiple copies!
I did eventually surface from the underwater enchantment of Moonfish, but it was only to catch my breath before diving in to read it again. This isn’t a book you will want to read just once, and it will equally delight children and adults.
Reviewed by Angela Brown
Read Angela’s interview with Graeme Base here.