By Lex H Jones
Exploring many forms of literature is an experience that should be afforded to all young readers. If you’re looking for a R’lyeh good introduction into “Horror for your Little Ones”, have I got the perfect book for you! You need not to look any further than The Old One and the Sea by Lex H Jones. This charming little story is a combination of a re-imagining of characters and events in the Lovecraftian universe, and biographical references to H.P. Lovecraft’s own life. It is a clever way to give some insight into the life of an author and approach the concept that even the most dramatic works of fiction have real-life, personal experiences behind it.
Clocking in at just over 100 pages, this short chapter book is an excellent way to wade into the dark waters of cosmic horror with a child. (And I did not miss the clever play and reference to another literary work in the title as well, referencing the great Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea) It makes an excellent read-aloud for younger children, and a perfect independent read for early tweens.
Little Howie is living with his mother, Sarah, in the small coastal town of Innsmouth in a post-war timeline. We follow him through the course of a few days as he begins to explore a mysterious jetty, risen from the sea under the night sky (which is filled with suspicious new constellations!). Howie embarks on a journey of love, loss, friendship, and self-discovery and learning many important lessons along the way. In order to save his gentle giant friend Oolu (or as most of us know him, the great and powerful Cthulhu), Howie must find a way to overcome the pitchfork mob of angry sailors and face his fears as well as theirs.
The book approaches the subjects of war, destruction, and death quite frequently, but Jones’s ability to tackle tough stuff in a kid appropriate manner is exceptional. There are several discussions between characters regarding the lives of soldiers lost in war, the families left behind, and the aftermath and consequences of war on society as a whole. Howie also deals with the internal struggle of depression and anxiety, and learning how to express himself emotionally. It is wonderful to see men and boy characters discussing emotions so freely, and reinforcing with great earnest that it’s alright sometimes to cry, feel sad, and to mourn. Jones sees to it that each concept is delivered with a responsible honesty, but still gently enough to explain even the most emotionally devastating concepts to sensitive eyes and ears.
In addition to tackling a tough subject matter, there are several uplifting and encouraging themes throughout as well. Howie’s creativity, independence, and imagination are encouraged by his mother and neighbor. Sarah trusts her son to make the right decision and learn from his mistakes and experiences. She speaks to her son with the authority of any good parental figure, but also with an heir of respect that he is his own person with his own ideas and perspectives. I was quite pleased with that refreshing take on a parent-child relationship in a children’s book! Mr. Derleth never doubts Howie, and encourages him to explore and discover the truth for himself. He supports Howie’s explanation of his excursions to his mother, encourages him to seek the truth, and stands up for him against the incorrigible former sailors. Each character also has their part to play in demonstrating how we can experience our vast range of emotions, accept them, and change our perspective with a little thoughtful work.
Jones’s writing is complemented by truly wonderful and whimsical illustrations by Liam ‘Pais’ Hill. Hill’s drawings have wonderful cartoon style cell shading, quirky irregular line work, and a beautiful color palette. His renderings of little Howie are genuinely fun, comical depictions of a mini adult HP Lovecraft. Gone are the frightening representations of Cthulhu that send shivers down your spine at a glance. Howie’s beloved Oolu is presented as a lovable, gentle giant with soft, rounded shapes and charming little tentacles. Seeing the unlikely pair staring off into the distant night sky, admiring the stars, standing atop a carnival peer gave me a little chuckle. This art style and aesthetic is the perfect addition to such clever writing.
I truly could go on and on about all of the many wonderful qualities of this story, but I won’t! Instead, I’d love to encourage you all to go acquire a copy and enjoy your own reading experience. The Old One and the Sea is a perfect addition to any bookshelf looking to diversify its subject matter beyond knights in dented armor or princesses who save themselves. It is a clever intro to horror and classic literature, as well as a beautiful emotional read! Go grab a copy and get in touch with your inner child, gift it to your favorite young independent reader, or try it as a unique read-aloud with your family; it is quite simply the kind of book that everyone wants to get their tentacles on!
Review by Ellen Avigliano
I received a copy of this book from the author for review consideration.