Dan Santat’s work is colorful, dynamic, and always imaginative; he also must be one of the most prolific working illustrators out there. While Santat mostly works in collaboration with a writer, there’s something fun and unique when the work comes solely from Santat’s staggering imagination. The Aquanaut is no exception.
Santat’s graphic novel The Aquanaut starts out with a sad tale at sea, where a ship takes on water and a crewmember goes down with the vessel. As the crewmember realizes his fate, he shoves a mysterious canister that holds the key to his life’s work into the hands of a trusted colleague. The rest of the story centers on young Sophie, who is working on a science project, and three marine animals who come on land in the form of a historical diving suit, similar to Muppets in a trench coat. There are unlikely alliances, an adventure or two, and definitely hijinks.
Santat does a wonderful job balancing the tone and pace of the book: acknowledging Sophie’s feelings of frustration and being unheard, while also following the unlikely scenario of marine animals running amuck as the Aquanaut. The reader is never bored; and while there are fantastic elements at play, the story is grounded in experiences, hopes, and dreams that many of us have had. The illustrations on each page are vibrant, both in color and motion. They are a delight to look at.
The Aquanaut is a graphic novel that centers on themes of family (blood and chosen) and what we can accomplish if we work together. It’s especially perfect for compassionate, imaginative kids in grades 3-7 who hold animals or environmental issues close to their heart.
If stories are still being read by grownups at bedtime, readers might want to consider one of Santat’s many picture books. I’m particularly fond of Santat’s Caldecott Medal-winning The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, which centers around the magic of a very special childhood relationship.