Graeme Base is without a doubt one of my favorite author/illustrators. His book Animalia is one of my favorite picture books of all time. I love that he (like John Lithgow and his illustrating partner C.F Payne in particular) treats his audience of young readers with respect in both his lavish illustrations and words.
The Sign of the Seahorse appeals to me initially because it is set within the structure of a play. I was about 10 seconds into reading when I fell in love with the lnaguage and visual feast that IS the story! It is both a love story between Pearl the Trout and Bert the Soldiercrab and the rise and fall of uber-villain Gropmund Groper. The Groper has been thwarted in a real estate deal when an oil spill kills the coral reef he has purchased. He invents a scam whereby he spreads the poison which destroyed his reef to another in order to sell his lots to the fleeing denizens of Reeftown (using some “creative” language to advertise his for-sale lots, of course).
The Soldiercrabs are dispatched to discover the cause of the poison that is destroying their reef–unaware that it has all been engineered by The Groper. Corporal Bert, smitten as he is with Pearl the Trout, sends her a love message through his friend Finneus Catfish. Finneus is a member of the Catfish Gang, a group of youngsters who consider themselves “tough” and may occasionally stay out too late, but are basically good-hearted beneath their mischief.
An obstacle to Groper’s scam is Pearl Trout and her father, who owns the Seahorse Cafe–a cool, local hangout with good food and live music. The Groper believes if he can close the Seahorse Cafe those sea creatures who have not already left Reeftown will do so. After Groper cheats her father out of the Cafe, Pearl prepares to travel through The Deep, fleeing Reeftown, just as The Groper has planned. She asks Finneus to deliver a love message to Corporal Bert, telling him she will leave her mark of the seahorse along her journey so that he will be able to find her when he returns.
Finneus unwittingly discovers The Groper’s machinations and the Catfish gang nearly defeats Groper and his hoodlums. It is not, however, until the Soldiercrabs also stumble upon the truth and Finneus makes a noble sacrifice that The Groper is brought to justice.
The entire tale is told eloquently in rhyme and is unbelieveably delightful to both read and hear read aloud! The book, itself, becomes a stage upon which the illustrations move and speak and emote. This is a fantastic read-aloud or independent read for almost any age!