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Hotel Deep; Light Verse from Dark Water
by Kurt Cyrus
Harcourt Children’s Books, 2005

A little sardine is separated from his school and the adventure begins. The illustrations are jewel-toned and highly detailed, whether the sea life is rendered realistically or has more of a humorous edge. The illustrations alone would make this book a must-read. Whether Sardine is dipping past the perils of a sea snake, or marveling at the oddity of a flounder, the viewer gets the same rapt feeling looking at the illustrations as snorkeling in Aruba.

Cyrus tells of Sardine's adventure in rhyme that works on quite a few levels: telling little Sardine’s tail, er-hem, TALE, imparting bits of correct details about life under water, and the occasional gallows humor of the fish-eat-fish world. And the rhyme itself is done well-- no easy feat.

The eye is led through the pages not only with the lavish illustrations but the rollicky layout of some of the text. The only way I think this could have been improved is if the lettering were larger and the color had been coordinated to the illustrations. The mechanical layout of the typeface (the cover was lettered by the legendary calligrapher John Stevens) was occasionally a tad hard to read and stilted in comparison to the words themselves and the illustrations.

But the benefits and joy of reading the overall text and viewing the art far outweigh the occasional awkward typeface placement. Any of the larger words that might trip the reader are fun to wrestle with.

The scary subject is deflected with humor, maintaining a real distance from the sardine. The effect is more observational of all the glitter of ocean life. Cyrus uses great sound verbs and imagery as well as often referencing the reader (“wouldn’t you?”) maintaining a high level of reader involvement.

This is not an easy bedtime book, but one that would be greatly enjoyed as a leisurely activity read. -A.W.

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