The Aquanaut by Jill Heinerth, Illus. by Jaime Kim

Review by Logaine Navascués

Tundra Books (Penguin Random House), January 2021

32 pages, hardcover, $21.99 CAD, ISBN 978-0-7352-6363-5

Ages 3-7, Grades Pre-K–3

Picture Book, Non-fiction, Biography, Science/Nature

The depths of the ocean are as mysterious and unknown as outer space, and real-life underwater explorer and cave diver Jill Heinerth knows it. Inspired by Heinerth’s own memories as a child, The Aquanaut tells the story of a curious little girl who wishes to explore different worlds and meet new creatures, despite being too young, too afraid, or thinking it may be too hard.

Heinerth’s personal account is cleverly narrated through Jaime Kim’s illustrations, alternating between images from her childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut and scenes of her present-day life as a diver. The story’s visual rhythm changes every two pages: little Jill’s ideas and expectations are depicted in warm brown, orange, and yellow hues in double spreads that are then followed by two others that show her as an adult investigating the sea in bright shades of blue. In every picture, details of the past are precisely placed and echoed in the scenes of the present, establishing a parallel narrative that foretells how her young wishes and daily play have transformed her into the woman she is today.

Although the text itself is simple and straightforward, the visual storytelling is what makes this picture book so attractive. The last pages provide more information about Heinerth’s biography, creating a captivating and well-rounded story that is built upon the gaps and connections between images. Not only does it touch upon the power of imagination and will, it also describes the value of being open to change while finding one’s own path. The Aquanaut serves as a reminder of the importance of showcasing more women role models in the science field.

Logaine Navascués is a Peruvian artist, writer, creative director, teacher, and book maker, currently living in Vancouver. She is the proud mother of a beautiful daughter and two artist’s books. You can find her reading, collecting picture books, and eating chocolate while pursuing her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature (MACL) at UBC.

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