Fan brothers bring their arresting artistry, first seen in The Night Gardener (2016), to Slater’s tale of
Marco, an inquisitive fox searching for answers in the wider world. Marco’s rather philosophical mind is
teeming with questions: “Why don’t trees ever talk? How deep does the sun go when it sinks into the sea?”
The unexpected arrival of a large ship—adorned with a magnificent masthead of a stag’s tree-like
antlers—offers Marco the chance to seek out the answers his fellow foxes can’t provide. Marco joins the
ship's deer crew, along with a flock of adventurous pigeons, and the animals set sail for Sweet Tree Island.
Their journey is fraught with stormy seas, paltry meals, sharp rocks, and a pirate hoard, but once safely on
the island Marco gains some insight at last. Finely detailed illustrations in graphite and ballpoint pen evoke
the dramatic moments of Slater’s story as effectively as the contemplative, such as when turbulent greengray
seas give way to a star-studded sky, or in the peachy sunset washing over Marco and his new friends.
Young readers will revel in the whimsical touches, like the peg-legged pigeon sailor and the imaginative
map gracing the book’s endpapers. This gorgeous, eye-opening adventure is an engrossing reading
experience that proudly touts curiosity and finding friendship in kindred spirits.
— Julia Smith
– Booklist, STARRED REVIEW, June 1, 2017
A philosophical fox full of questions boards a ship with strangers and discovers that finding friends is even better than finding answers. Russet-furred Marco wonders about everything. His fellow foxes care mainly about dinner. When a great, antlered wooden ship, captained by a deer named Sylvia, docks in the harbor, Marco goes down to see it. Intrigued by the possibility of finding other foxes who share his curiosity, Marco decides to set sail, as do an adventurous flock of pigeons led by Victor, pictured as a one-legged bird in a bandanna. While they struggle a bit with the unfamiliar tasks and are beset by the typical dangers that sailors face, Marco, Sylvia, and Victor each contribute to the success of their journey. In the mostly dreamy, delicate pen-and-pencil illustrations, colored digitally, Marco the fox and the other animals are shown as sapient but not completely anthropomorphized. The antlered ship is delightfully detailed and decorated, the pirates our heroes encounter are appropriately toothy and threatening (even the cutlass-wielding mouse), and the sepia-colored maps on the endpapers feature deliciously evocative names. The old-fashioned appearance of the Fans' artwork perfectly suits Slater's contemplative, musing tone. While the ending is hardly a surprise, it feels right, true, and not the least bit clichéd. A beautifully composed package filled with whimsy and wisdom—the story of this unique vessel will inspire and entertain thoughtful listeners. (Picture book. 4-7)
– Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW, 7/15/17
Marco, a fox, thirsts to know everything: “Why don’t trees ever talk? How deep does the sun go when it sinks into the sea?” A ship appears off the coast of Marco’s forest. It’s crewed by deer (they’re poor sailors, they admit), and its figurehead is a stag with a massive set of antlers. Together with a flock of pigeons, Marco embarks on a nautical adventure in hopes of locating foxes who can answer his questions. The sailors encounter storms, dangerous rocks, and pirates before finding the island refuge they seek. In spreads that evoke seafaring motifs from the Odyssey to Treasure Island, the Fan brothers (The Night Gardener) lavish care on every delicate detail, from the ship’s rigging to the foam on the waves. Breathtaking seascapes alternate with cozy scenes below decks as predators and prey huddle peaceably. Slater (Escargot) creates a story to lose oneself in, an adventure packed with risk and possibility. The ship becomes a community, and Marco and his questions part of its journey.
– Publishers Weekly *STARRED REVIEW, July 24, 2017
A fox sets sail in search of answers to questions about life, the universe, and everything in this picture book fantasy. Marco the fox wonders about many things, but the other foxes are more concerned with chicken soup than with philosophy. When an antlered ship appears, captained by deer traveling to an island of “tall, sweet grass and short, sweet trees,” Marco seizes the opportunity to seek out other foxes who may have answers. The crew sails across treacherous seas, triumphing over sharp rocks and fierce pirates before arriving safely at Sweet Tree Island. Alas, there are no foxes to be found, and Marco’s travels have only yielded more questions. Yet, he also has new friends and the chance for further adventures–perhaps that is enough. Slater’s adventure narrative is an epic journey with a classic feel, perfectly scaled for a picture-book audience. The straightforward text is lyrical, rhythmic, and begs to be read aloud. Graphite-and-pen illustrations by the Fan Brothers depict expressive, realistically drawn animals sporting the occasional hat or bandanna. As the distinctive prow of the antlered ship sails through ethereal seascapes, young audiences can follow its path through the detailed maps included on the endpapers. VERDICT Marco’s discovery that the world is full of questions, but not always answers, is at once profound and entirely accessible to young audiences. Make this gently thrilling celebration of life’s big questions a first-purchase.
– School Library Journal, September 2017