In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Dear Annie,

Welcome back!  What a magical reading time it is at your house -- I wish I were there to hear Eleanor reading.  And to see all five of you, for that matter.

When you told me that Jeff and the girls are heading to Mystic Seaport this week, one book immediately came to mind.  Bob brought
by Holling Clancy Holling into our family -- he had fond memories of it from his childhood.  Written in 1948, it's the story of four generations of men all involved with seafaring.  It's definitely from an earlier era, about Men and The Sea, but it's quite lovely: a good adventure.

It starts with young Ezra, a cabin boy on a whaler in 1832.  He's in the crow's nest during a snowstorm off the coast of Greenland:
A shadow passed him, gone before he really saw it.  It came again and was gone.  Then it hovered, beyond arm's reach.  A white bird soared motionless in the falling snow, looking at him.  It gave no cry.  It, too, was unreal to Ezra -- as though the silent flakes had formed a snowy vision.  The boy gazed without blinking.  He had never seen anything so coldly beautiful -- so much a part of snow and ice and the mystery of air.
    Without warning the white bird wheeled, swept forward and shot straight up.
Ezra makes a connection between the bird's odd flight and swallows from his home in Maine and realizes that there's an iceberg dead ahead.  His warning saves the ship.

He ends up carving a scrimshaw model of the bird -- calling it Seabird -- and carries it with him as his talisman.  One of the beauties of the book is that Holling does lovely drawings in the margins to give background to the main story: a sort of forerunner of Magic School Bus.  We see the steps of making the carving.  Later, drawings explain geologic forces, steam engines, types of whales, and the steps of rendering oil from a dead one.  This, of course, is one of the challenges of the book: it lovingly describes the steps of whaling, from sighting and chasing whales --
to the processing of the blubber.  It's all technologically fascinating, but has to do with whale murder.

Ezra grows up to be captain of a clipper ship hauling cargo around the world.  His son Nate comes along, on a round-the-world voyage, with Seabird always in tow.  Nate makes the transition to steamships.  Nate's son Ken is fascinated by the machinery and ends up becoming a ship designer.  And Jim, born in 1918, the year his great-grandfather turns 100, becomes an airplane pilot, flying across oceans.  Seabird hangs above each boy's cradle, and is carried on all the adventures -- including a plane flight carrying all four generations.

It's a very male adventure: the only woman in it is Ezra's wife, described only as "a girl with golden hair and eyes as blue as the sea."  It has some of the appeal, though, of the Little House books: loving attention to detail, immersion in an earlier way of living.  It could be a hit with Eleanor.

Enjoy your just-mom-and-baby time with Will -- and I hope the rest of the family has fun on the New England trip.



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