Flotsam by David Wiesner


Wiesner, David.  Flotsam.  Clarion, 2006.  $17, 40 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:  http://www.davidwiesner.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

A camera washed up on the beach yields surprising photos of the underwater world.


An inquisitive boy spends a day at the beach inspecting various sea life and beach things (flotsam).  When he finds an old camera washed up on the beach, he brings the film to be developed and is amazed at the pictures that appear.  The photographs start with usual images of sea life that one might expect to find in the ocean, but soon progresses into amazing sights.  From sea turtles with cities on their backs, to underwater aliens in flying (swimming?) saucers, to mechanical wind-up fish, and an octopus family relaxing in their living room, the sea appears to be full of wonderful creatures and adventures.  Upon closer inspection of a portrait of another child holding another picture, the boy also finds a legacy of children who have found the camera before him, from all over the world and from all different times.  He adds his own picture before sending the camera on to its next amazing journey.


This beautifully illustrated wordless picture book shows how truly a picture is worth a thousand words.  The story is told using a series of pictures that follow sequentially.  Smaller pictures tell the story with details that lead to larger full page pictures.  Because there are no words, it is left to the reader to determine what to take away from the pictures.  The illustrations play with different perspectives and points of view, not only from that of the mysterious and unknown users who snapped the underwater shots, but even from the “narrator” who starts off investigating a starfish in a closeup that makes the starfish look like a giant.  From that first picture, Wiesner already asks the reader to question what they see and to think about perspective influencing what is seen.  The continuity of his message across places and times is paralleled by the picture within a picture within a picture that the narrator himself takes part in when he takes his own picture with the picture to continue the cycle.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 5

Genre and Subgenre:  picture book, modern fantasy

Appeal Factors:  wordless, ocean life, beach, use of imagination, fantastical illustrations

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Sector 7 by David Wiesner
  • Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
  • The Red Book by Barbara Lehman

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2007 Caldecott Medal Winner

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Finding the camera, getting the film developed
  • Picture of the underwater city
  • Children with picture within a picture

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Who took the pictures?
  • Where did the camera come from?
  • What would you take pictures of?

Why I Chose This:

The fact that this book was a wordless book was what initially drew me to selecting the title (which was also a fascinating title).  Then, the wonder of the plot was appealing with this amazing camera documenting these strange and unbelievable scenes.  Finally, the beautiful illustrations cinched the deal.


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