Nicole Godwin (author) and Christopher Nielsen (illustrator)
Walker Books: 2020
Reviewed by Viv Young
A young jelly fish falls in love with a plastic bag she mistakes for a jelly-boy and follows it into the deep ocean currents.
Jelly-Boy is an imaginative exploration of water pollution from the perspective of ocean creatures. The plot takes its cue from tales of star-crossed lovers—the jelly-girl’s family don’t like this dangerous and different ‘jelly-boy’ yet she follows him anyway. While this may sound serious, when applied to a jelly fish and a plastic bag its humour is clear from the outset. There is, however, a serious undercurrent to this story. The danger to which the text refers is from the perspective of the jelly-fish who do not really understand what this jelly-boy is, but for readers the danger is the water pollution conveyed with great subtlety and force in the illustrations. The tension between text and image is what makes this book particularly powerful—it conveys all the innocence and trust of the animal world as well as the danger pollution poses to it.
The artwork for Jelly-Boy delivers the straightforward message about water pollution and is visually compelling. Each page is alive with colour, pattern and texture, reflecting the great beauty of the ocean world in danger. The repetitive shapes also help the reader to empathise with the jelly-girl and her confusion about jelly-boy—the plastic bag while recognisable is reminiscent of the creatures around it.
Jelly-Boy never mentions water pollution explicitly and that is its great strength—by viewing water pollution from the perspective of the creatures who suffer from it Godwin and Nielsen have managed to create a humorous and deeply moving story.