Daddy-Daughter Book Review: Mister Seahorse

Mister Seahorse Cover

I spend a lot of time reading to my daughter.  It’s one of our favorite pastimes.  But despite the dozens of books we have on hand at any given moment, Audrey has her favorites.  And those favorites, well, she makes me read them over, and over…

And over again.

It can get to be tiresome.  And as a result, I have learned to be a bit critical with their content, ranking them on the following dad-centric criteria:

  1.    How fun is it to read?
  2.    What is the quality of the artwork?
  3.    How high is the reading level?

If a book scores highly in all three, I’m much more likely to indulge Audrey’s book reading whims and drive a particular book into the ground.  So with that in mind, let’s dive into Eric Carle’s “Mister Seahorse” and see what we find.

How Fun is It to Read?

I chose “Mister Seahorse” for Audrey because it’s premise is an excellent one for fathers.  It begins with the title character’s female counterpart giving birth to a large number of seahorse eggs.  But instead of leaving her to do all the work, Mister Seahorse asks her a simple, but important question:

“Can I help?”

Mister Seahorse Interior

What follows is the simple tale of a father caring for his eggs while simultaneously meeting other dads from different fish species, each of which is also caring for a handful of soon-to-be-hatched eggs.  The tale sets a good example for families by flipping the traditionally maternal role on its head.

Now all of that is well and good–especially for us at-home dads–but it means little if the book is not fun to read.  From a purely text-based standpoint, “Mister Seahorse” isn’t a terribly exciting ride.  It’s merely a parade of similar conversations between fathers about caring for their eggs.  That’s it.  And upon its conclusion–do children’s books require a spoiler alert?–the seahorse eggs simply hatch and swim on their way, with a few simple words of encouragement from the title character.  You’re not going to get a rollicking tale of seahorse adventure here.  But there is fun to be found in this book.  And because it’s from Eric Carle, you can pretty well assume it’s going to come from the artwork.

What is the Quality of the Artwork?

If you have children then you should be very familiar with Eric Carle.  Author of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and much more, his watercolor and collage method is iconic amongst picture books.  His name even graces a picture book museum–a pretty good one, I might add!  Well, I’m happy to report that “Mister Seahorse” is yet another example of his brilliance.  It’s colorful, charming, and whimsical.  Everything you could want in a picture book.

But what really separates this book from the rest is a handful of acetate inserts.

Mister Seahorse Interior 2  

These transparent sheets have been lovingly painted with various underwater plant life and rocks.  When placed over the artwork on the following and preceding pages, it gives off the appearance that the characters in the book are hidden behind them.  

Mister Seahorse Interior 3

My daughter Audrey adores these sections so much that it makes you wonder why more picture books don’t employ similar methods.  Like the drilled holes in “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” its this added touch that really separates “Mister Seahorse” from the pack.

How High is the Reading Level?

“Mister Seahorse” is recommended for ages four and up.  My daughter, however, is two.  As you might expect then, the subject matter is a bit beyond her.  And the theme of fatherhood is almost certainly lost on her.  But yet, she loves it.  This isn’t just due to the acetate inserts and overall art style, however.  It’s in thanks to the fact that all the characters are animals, and, perhaps more importantly, Mr. Carle keeps introducing new fish on each page.  This keeps it fresh and interesting.  But, if you do want the intended message to come through to your children, I would recommend waiting until the recommended age level.  The text isn’t sophisticated here, it’s the message, so bear that in mind when deciding to add this to your collection.

Mister Seahorse Interior 4

“Mister Seahorse” isn’t Eric Carle’s greatest achievement, but it’s certainly worthy of his name and an excellent addition to any child’s library.  It’s also especially worthy if you’re an at-home father.  There aren’t a lot of picture books that celebrate fatherhood, so the ones that do exist need to be championed.  Consider this my attempt to do so.

Recommended–especially for families with strong father figures.

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