PPBF – Ella & Monkey at Sea

I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book in a review by Vivian Kirkfield on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar. I purchased the book for my own collection and am so happy to share it with you today.

Title: Ella & Monkey at Sea

Written & Illustrated By: Emilie Boon

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: immigration; journey; moving/loss


Monkey doesn’t like good-bye hugs. He doesn’t want to say good-bye to Oma. Oma wipe away tears and hugs Mama too.

Brief Synopsis:

A young girl, accompanied by her mother and a favorite sock monkey, journey from the Netherlands to America to reunite with her father.

Links to Resources:

  • Ella draws pictures when she’s scared and angry. What colors are your pictures when you’re scared or angry? What colors do you use to cheer yourself up or cheer up someone else? Draw a cheerful picture;
  • Have you moved to a new house, city, or country? How did you feel? List three things you miss from your old home and three things you like about your new home;
  • Monkey is a sock monkey. Try ten sock crafts (with thanks to Vivian for the suggestion!).

Why I Like this Book:

In Ella & Monkey at Sea, the reader travels along with Ella, her special friend, Monkey, and Mama as they journey from the home and grandmother they have known in Europe to a new home in America, where Ella’s father awaits their arrival. Filled with emotion, we feel Ella’s doubts and misgivings about this long sea voyage and life-changing move through the reactions of Monkey, who, we learn, “doesn’t like good-bye hugs”, “doesn’t want to get on a ship, or sail off to sea, or move away forever”. It’s also Monkey who doesn’t like the fish served at dinner and who is “clingy” when a storm arises. And it’s Monkey who “loves hello hugs”, as, Ella reveals, does she.

While it isn’t clear why the family moves, I think Ella & Monkey at Sea will be a helpful book for any child whose family is moving across town or across the world. I think even children who have never moved will relate to the very real emotions that Monkey (and Ella) feel and, hopefully, will gain empathy for new students in their classrooms or new neighbors.

Boon is an author-illustrator whose watercolor, graphite, colored pencil and crayon illustrations show the emotions Ella and Monkey feel through facial expressions, body language and color. I especially liked Boon’s descriptions of Ella scribbling during a bad storm at sea, using “angry black”, “scared gray”, “cold blue”, until, as her crayons “snap”, she borrows “Monkey’s crayons” and draws “sun pictures” filled with bright yellow – a hopeful sign of future happiness.

A Note about Craft:

As in many recent refugee and immigrant picture books, Boon uses first-person point-of-view to bring immediacy to the story and help others empathize with Ella’s situation. Unlike many other young immigrants, Ella doesn’t travel alone or just with a parent: she has Monkey. Boon projects Ella’s feelings onto Monkey, so Ella doesn’t have to face the unpleasant aspects of the journey – leaving her grandmother, a long sea voyage and a storm at sea – alone. I found this “role playing” aspect of the story especially beneficial for kids who may be undergoing similar changes in their lives and who, like Ella, may be scared or feeling unsure of their future. Whether it’s a pet, a stuffed animal or another toy, I think it’s helpful to include something upon which the main character can project his or her emotions and which s/he can help overcome misgivings and fears.

Visit Boon’s website to see more of her work and learn the backstory of Ella & Monkey at Sea, Boon’s journey by ship to America from the Netherlands as a young girl. Read Kirkfield’s interview with Boon on “Will Write for Cookies”.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

14 responses to “PPBF – Ella & Monkey at Sea

  1. Thanks for the lovely shout out, Patricia. And I’m so glad you got a copy for yourself and enjoyed it so much. Awesome review, as always! I really appreciate your ‘note about craft’ that you include in your reviews.

  2. I am so glad we are seeing so many books about immigration, with all the diverse themes that go with them.

  3. This sounds like a wonderful addition to the family of books about feeling “at sea” for whatever reason the relocation. I have it on my list for reading. Thanks!

  4. What a kid-friendly way to introduce kids to immigration — and even their own family roots. Love the cover.

  5. I think this will be a great book for helping create some empathy towards immigrants and just people “new” to a community. Great Review, Patricia.

  6. I love your comments about the use of color to reflect emotion in the story. And who can resist a sock monkey, right?

    • I agree, Sue. I’ve been thinking about the use of color all weekend & have a “blue” themed perfect pairing post set for tomorrow. And you’re making me wonder what other picture books feature sock monkeys…

  7. Pingback: Perfect Pairing – Feeling Blue? | Wander, Ponder, Write

  8. Pingback: Perfect Pairing of Objects on Journeys | Wander, Ponder, Write

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