I was surprised this week to find Salt Water Taffy "The Legend of Old Salty" in my pull box. Not that it was there in error, but I had seen so many positive reviews of it already that I was under the impression that it was already out and had to be back-ordered. Not so! It was only released this week through Diamond, and other reviews you may have seen before that must have been figments of your imagination.
That's what happens when you get bored, you know. Your imagination kicks into overdrive, and your mind starts creating its own material to respond to. In fact, I've heard of scientific studies that have found that some people, living in particularly quiet areas or having hearing difficulties, begin to hear music even though none is actually being played. (This, by the way, is a separate and distinctly different phenomena than what's experienced with schizophrenia.) Your brain needs stimulation and, in an absence of external stimuli, it sometimes will create its own.
So, when the batteries die in Jack Putnam's GameBoy while being dragged by his family to a small, New England town for the summer, it's hardly surprising that a blurry form seen far down by the shore becomes a bear in his mind, and he races down the hill as a ninja to investigate. He and his brother then bump into a homeless wild man. Or maybe he's a spy! Or a cowboy!
Turns out he's just a fisherman named Angus O'Neil. But he proceeds to tell them the tale of Old Salty, the sea monster of Chowder Bay. Later, when the local taffy store is burgled, Jack naturally jumps to the conclusion that it's the work of Old Salty, who evidently has a penchant for taffy. As Jack and Angus concoct an elaborate plot to capture Old Salty (which involves at various times: building an underwater raft of spinach and egg whites, attaching a radio to a whale, and developing a robot shark) Jack's little brother, Benny, digs a hole that captures two smaller lobsters which they can interrogate.
(You did catch that, didn't you?)
Rather than spoil the rest of the story, though, I'll just say that they don't capture Old Salty, Jack gains a new appreciation for the outdoors, and the trio of protagonists launch out in search of new adventures.
This is the type of story for every kid who got stuck going to a museum or family reunion or road trip or any of those other insanely boring things that parents make their kids do. It's precisely the type of adventure every kid should dream of having from time to time, and one that most of us sadly put behind us in adulthood. Matthew Loux's story is well-crafted, both in terms of overall structure and execution. Jack's journey is one that few people take, but it's also one that's shown as smooth and natural.
Loux's illustration style is attractive and bold. The landscape and seascape shots are especially interesting, and make effective use of light and shadow. The character designs work well enough, although I have to admit being a little distract briefly by how similar the father looked to the owner of the taffy store; I thought they were supposed to be brothers initially. But both are relatively minor characters, so I was soon absorbed back into the kids' adventures.
It was an excellent book overall, and I'm looking forward to further adventures in volume two.