Allison's Book Bag

One Wonderful Fine Day for a Sculpin Named Sam by Al Pittman

Posted on: July 22, 2013

ScuplinNamedSamOne Wonderful Fine Day for a Sculpin Named Sam by Al Pittman is a fun tale featuring, obviously, a sculpin named Sam. A sculpin, in case you don’t know, is a bottom-feeding saltwater fish that has spines rather than scales. Pittman’s picture book, a Newfoundland classic which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, has a twist that reminds me of Hans Christian Anderson’s memorable The Ugly Duckling.

Pittman has created a sweet story about a unique fish in a unique place, which should resonate with readers in a universal way. Sam is a sculpin living on an island called Fogo, off the northeast coast of Newfoundland. Although Sam  lives alone under a fishing stage in the harbor, he has plenty of neighbors, such as lobster, jellyfish, lumpfish, octopus, and flatfish. One fine day Sam takes a swim to see what’s happening with his neighbors, only to find it’s not such a fine day after all because everyone views him as a bother. About this time, like me, you might recognize the similarities with the Hans Christian Anderson tale of the duck who felt ostracized by everyone he met. The latter being one of my favorite fairy tales, I’m further hooked into Sam’s story.  Turns out, Sam and Anderson’s duckling both have the same problem of being considered ugly by those around them.

If you think too hard about this plot, you might see some flaws. For example, how is it that Sam has gone this long in his life without noticing his neighbors’ disdain? There are hints which suggest Sam hasn’t been completely oblivious; for example, he doesn’t expect to receive invitations to any events. At the same time, he seems unaware that his neighbors’ disparaging remarks are about him. When Sam finally puts everything together, he decides to take initiative and ask for an explanation. Brave Sam! The answer makes him run away, where he meets someone from his childhood. How is that this other ocean creature is just now appearing in his life?

Fishing stages in Fogo, Newfoundland

Fishing stages in Fogo, Newfoundland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a reviewer, it’s my instinct to look for flaws. If you choose instead to just immerse yourself in One Wonderful Fine Day for a Sculpin Named Sam, you’ll find it a wonderful regional update on Anderson’s tale. My husband and I having just visited Fogo, Sam’s home took on special significance to me. I appreciated the other references to Newfoundland locales too such as Eastern Tickle and the Atlantic Ocean. Pittman also adeptly weaves in the mention of items related to a coastal life, such as a harbor, a fishing stage, shells, and seaweed. Moreover, he makes them relevant to those who might not be familiar with this culture, referring to the neighbors as playing “a game of shells” and of ones not being “much of a hand at shells”. There’s even the occasional use of dialect such as “Sam thought he’d take a little flick around to see what was going on”.

Nothing in One Wonderful Fine Day for a Sculpin Named Sam will deter ones unacquainted with Newfoundland from enjoying Pittman’s tale with its inspiring message. As for those who are from the island, they’ll feel as if reading about home, which always makes for a wonderful experience. How glad I am that I finally purchased Pittman’s classic.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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