Salt Water Taffy: The Legend of Old Salty

Salt Water Taffy: The Legend of Old Salty
By Matthew Loux
Oni Press, $5.95
Rating: Youth (Age 7+)

Reading Matthew Loux’s Salt Water Taffy: The Legend of Old Salty reminded me of a favorite childhood book: Robert McCloskey’s Burt Dow, Deep Water Man, a tall tale about a Maine lobsterman who finds himself marooned inside a whale. Loux’s story adopts a similar approach, blending Down East realism with a touch of the fantastic to good effect.

Salt Water Taffy takes place in the fictional town of Chowder Bay, ME, where eleven-year-old Jack Putnam and his younger brother Benny are vacationing with their parents. Initially, Jack resists Chowder Bay’s charms, bemoaning the lack of modern comforts: television, cell phones, video games. But as he and Benny begin exploring the town and meeting the locals, Jack abandons his too-cool-for-school pose and throws himself into searching for Old Salty, Maine’s answer to the Loch Ness monster.

Though the fish-out-of-water plot is a staple of children’s literature, Loux puts a fresh, funny spin on the material. Jack and Benny act and speak like real kids, allowing readers to empathize with their very familiar situation. The story takes plenty of unexpected twists and turns that will engage younger readers, while the comic subplots and talking lobsters will delight kids and parents equally.

The real strength of Salt Water Taffy, however, is the artwork. As McCloskey did in Burt Dow (and his numerous other picture book paeans to Maine, from Blueberries for Sal to A Time of Wonder), Loux makes the Maine landscape an integral part of his story, authentically evoking its scrub pines, rocky beaches, and clapboard buildings in bold, black lines. His meticulous attention to detail and atmosphere extends to the front matter as well, where he offers a map of Chowder Bay that will remind New Englanders of Bar Harbor. A few of the busier scenes are a little hard to parse owing to the uniformity of the lines—a judicious use of tone in the climatic scene with Old Salty would have made it easier to distinguish man from beast as they went mano-a-claw.

That said, Salt Water Taffy is a thoroughly entertaining, smartly illustrated yarn that will appeal to readers of all ages, the kind of book that’s sure to earn a well-deserved spot on this year’s YALSA list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Oni Press.

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