Paper World

Flotsam / Ghosts

Books That Belong On Paper Issue No. 3

Books That Belong On Paper first appeared on the web as Wink Books and was edited by Carla Sinclair. Sign up here to get the issues a week early in your inbox.


by David Wiesner
Abrams ComicArts
2017, 240 pages, 6.9 x 1.0 x 9.4 inches, Hardcover

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Go to any beach, and odds are that you may have seen flotsam wash onto the shore. Flotsam has become a catch-all term for refuse, but it’s more accurately defined as the wreckage of a ship or its cargo. This is an important distinction. Flotsam is not simply trash, but somebody’s precious possessions, something of enough value that made it worth transporting to begin with. David Wiesner’s intriguing and mysteriously gorgeous Flotsam begins with a boy stumbling onto an antique camera by the shore, but what he discovers far surpasses any material treasure.

After developing a weathered roll of film that he finds inside the camera, the hero of this story finds a series of snapshots that offer tantalizing glimpses of a surreal, compelling underwater microcosm. The reader is treated to the gradual revelation of a strange and wondrous hidden realm below the sea where a family of octopi lounge in their living room, the skin of brilliant red fish peels back to reveal shining clockwork gears, sea tortoises carry entire cities made of seashells upon their backs, a starship full of aliens visits a colony of seahorses and tropical islands are revealed to be the centers of giant starfish that cavort while comparatively diminutive blue whales swim beneath.

The last photo particularly captures the boy’s attention. In it, an Asian girl holds up a photo of a boy in a knit cap, who in turn holds a photo of a blond girl. This discovery prompts our protagonist to further examine the photo with a magnifying glass, gradually revealing even more images of children holding up photos of the previous child to find the camera. Closer examination with a microscope reveals the vivid colors of the present day fading to the black-and-white of earlier times, until all that remains is a photo of one child standing by the shores in clothes that indicate the turn of the past century. Recognizing himself as part of a continuum across generations, our young hero takes a picture of himself holding up the photo with all of the other children, his secret sharers in viewing an enchanted, hidden world below the sea.

The wordless tale ends with the boy throwing the camera back into the ocean. As a school of squid, a whale, a pelican and a team of sea horses carry the camera across the sea for a young girl to find on the shore of another beach across the world, we’re reminded of how all of us can share in wonder and joy, led only by simple curiosity and the willingness to look more closely at the world around us.

With Flotsam, Wiesner provides the reader with exotic fragments of a complex and nuanced inner world beneath the fantastic realms of the ocean and imagination. His compelling book functions very much like a photo album, offering glimpses into the lives of its subjects. These are the memories that Wiesner’s denizens of the deep cherish, the moments that linger in the memory and consciousness of the sea creatures, and, by extension, the reader of this handsome and nuanced book.

– Lee Hollman


by Raina Telgemeier
2016, 256 pages, 5.5 x 0.9 x 7.9 inches, Paperback

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Cat’s sister Maya is suffering from cystic fibrosis, which is the reason why her family moved to the Northern Californian town of Bahia De La Luna. Upon meeting Carlos, the girls discover that the new town they must reluctantly call home is filled with ghosts.

Aloof, perpetually annoyed teenager Cat, and her active, curious sister Maya, journey to the haunted town of Bahia De La Luna. They meet local teen Carlos, who takes them on a ghost tour of a spooky abandoned arcade. There they are greeted by shy, familial ghosts. The sisters learn about aspects of Latin culture, including the holiday Dia De Los Muertos. They eventually work out some sibling rivalry, and Cat develops a crush on Carlos, which she denies. After a dramatic health scare, the girls experience a joyful Dia De Los Muertos celebration with music, dancing, and bottles of orange soda.

A bittersweet story of learning to appreciate new cultures and customs, Ghosts features colorful art work, and its lively, engaging dialogue and expressively-drawn images of marigold-strewn altars, dim, foreboding woods, and festively attired, rollicking holiday celebrations keep the story moving along. Focusing mostly on interpersonal relationships, the eponymous spirits are only minor supporting characters, and the plot rarely becomes scary. Ghosts is a charming tale of family, friendship, and bravery.

– SD


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