Thursday, October 27, 2011


Base, Graeme. The Legend of the Golden Snail. NY: Abrams, 2010. ISBN 0-8109-8965-8. $19.95 HC.

Graeme Base’s first best-seller, the 1987 alphabet book Animalia, introduced his gorgeous, intricate, eye-and-imagination-catching art and his playful language, such as “Unruly unicorns upending urns of ultramarine umbrellas” to children and adults around the world. In the nearly quarter century he has been writing and painting since the first book, he has continued to produce distinctive, popular picturebooks. His newest, The Legend of the Golden Snail, is one of his best.

Young Wilbur loves the legend of the Grand Enchanter who sends his great ship, the Golden Snail, to the Ends of the Earth until a new Grand Enchanter appears. Wilbur determines he will be the next enchanter, and, with a captain’s hat made by his mother and with her best wishes, he sets off across the ocean in a rowboat with his cat. Along the way, he stops to save thirsty butterfly flowers, frees a colossal crab tangled in a net, and overcomes the earwig pirates who are stealing the lantern fish’s lightbulbs. But he worries these, to him, less than heroic acts will not exhibit his qualifications to be the next Grand Enchanter. Readers know better: as in the fairy tales, one who does good things selflessly will prosper, and, indeed, when Wilbur is stuck in the Dreadful Doldrums, the butterflies come to his aid, as do the crab and the lantern fish.

Soon Wilbur arrives at the End of the Earth. To his disappointment, the snail ship appears to be merely a little snail stuck in the sand. Ah, but Wilbur, having listened so well to the legend, knows the magic verse to bring the little snail into its full sailing ship size. In a series of stunning double-truck pages, Wilbur’s joyous flight on the glorious snail ship is depicted in memorably beautiful scenes (think of the flying bike scene in E.T. ). The essence of the story comes in Wilbur’s ultimate decision: he chooses to release the magic ship, sending it back for the next Grand Enchanter and return home in the rowboat with his cat. The reward for his humility is: his own tiny rowboat turns to gold and sprouts wings. The final picture is unforgettable; the boy and his cat heading home in the flying golden rowboat, setting off into a fabulously vibrant sky and feeling content to no longer be the Grand Enchanter but rather Wilbur, the Gallant Captain.

The Legend of the Golden Snail
, characteristically of Base’s many books, offers interactive games like hidden objects to spot, maps, and beautifully detailed art; it’s a picturebook feast.

Alida Allison

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