A shy boy stands on the poolside and looks at the expanse of water before him. A boisterous crowd of swimmers arrive, leap into the water and soon fill the space. The boy hesitates then dives in, plunging far below the sea of arms and legs. There, he meets a young girl and together they explore an underwater kingdom. Pool is a celebration of friendship and the power of the imagination.
Pool is wordless picture book of many contrasts: silence/noise, stillness/activity, black & white/colour, reality/imagination, surface/depth. I think this is one of the reasons it works so well. Take the opening: a portrait of a young boy, then a double spread where he stands alone on a poolside, completely still, with his arms hanging down. The silence is then shattered as a hurly-burly crowd of swimmers burst in with their huge rubber rings, wide-open mouths and outstretched arms. There is something ugly about them and their noise – we feel empathy for the boy and wonder what he is going to do next.
And what he does next is unexpected and beautiful. The boy dives into the pool, through the seething mass of humanity, and into another world. And as he moves through the water, his body is illustrated in colour, while those on the surface remain in black and white. This distinction is both subtle and clever, drawing our attention to the underwater kingdom and the two children who explore it. For, waiting in the depths of the pool is a young girl.
The relationship between the two main protagonists is powerful in its simplicity. From their initial hesitation on meeting, the boy and girl develop a close bond in their underwater adventure. The illustrations often show them swimming side by side. And the close up when the pair see each other without goggles for the first time is touchingly sweet.
The underwater world has been vividly imagined by JiHyeon Lee. One of my favourite spreads is the ‘magic forest’, with its coral-like trees, snout-nosed fish and weird blue-shelled sea creatures. I particularly like the quiet smiles of delight on the children’s faces as they swim towards this scene. My girls, Miss 2 and Miss 5, prefer the subsequent spread where we see the two children close-up, smiling as seahorse-creatures suck their fingertips. (It makes them giggle!)
This is no sugar-coated adventure, however. At one stage, the boy looks distressed as a mass of blue-shelled sea creatures surround him. In the ‘secret castle’ spread, both boy and girl seem to be wary – and it’s hardly surprising; those giant sea slugs look like they might bite. Other illustrations show shark-like fish with giant teeth snapping up some of their fellow sea creatures. I like the way the book shows the potential dangers of this underwater kingdom along with its beauty.
JiHyeon Lee has created a simple yet skillful picture book in Pool. There is so much to explore in the depths of each page. I could come back to it time and time again. And I know my children could too.
Pool by JiHyeon Lee (Chronicle Books, 2015)
JiHyeon Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, where she still lives today. She studied media art at Kaywon School of Art & Design and illustration at HILLS (Hankuk Illustration School). Pool is her first book.
In this blog article, JiHyeon Lee talks about the inspiration for Pool and the creative process behind the book.