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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Fog Island, written and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer. Phaidon Press, 2013. $16.95 ages 6 and up

"Their father was also a boat builder.
From bent reeds and tarred canvas
he fashioned a small curragh
as a surprise for the children.

"Never leave the bay," he warned them,
"and stay clear of Fog Island!
It's a doomed and evil place,
surrounded by treacherous currents."

Any new book from 82 year old Tomi Ungerer is cause for celebration; then, mystify readers with a touch of magic and mystery and you have a sure winner!

Finn and Cara live near the sea with their parents; it is a hard life, but worthwhile and lived gratefully. They fish and farm. The children help with chores and enjoy the cozy warmth of their cottage, as long as they are together.

They can see Fog Island, surrounded by gloom and eerie in appearance. While exploring the shore one day, the fog keeps them from seeing that the tide is pulling them away. Finding shelter in a calm inlet, they make the decision to spend the night, in hopes the fog will lift. Ever inquisitive, Finn takes note of a set of steps leading up the rock face. (I assume he doesn't notice the spooky faces in the rocks that surround that stairway!)

A door at the top opens slowly, revealing an old, bearded man who invites them inside. Would you accept his invitation? I wonder...

He is the Fog Man and he has made the fog that brought them to the island. He explains to them how he makes the fog, then offers food and entertainment. They are enthralled. Finally, exhausted by their adventure, they fall into a dreamless sleep and awaken to an enduring mystery. Quickly they head for the safety that home and hearth provides. A storm blows up that keeps them from an immediate, safe return. Luckily, their parents have organized a search. Just in time, they are rescued and live to tell the tale of meeting the Fog Man. They invite skeptics to return to Fog Island with them where proof of their visit will be evident. No one seems willing to accept their invitation.

The artist's palette is moody in tone, and mysterious in its evocation of the Irish coast.  This is a picture book sure to find fans, while also thrilling young readers with just the kind of tale that offers up a scare and causes them to stop, think and read it all over again.

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