Aspiring writers are often advised to write about what they know. Although I could find little about Bruce Stagg, other than his being a high school teacher who has written stories about the imaginary outport of Roaring Cove, he seems to have followed this advice with the picture book Lucy Grey. It’s about a little fishing boat which is displaced by the collapse of the fishing industry. Every Newfoundlander, no matter how inland they live, is aware of how disastrous the 1992 cod moratorium was to our island’s economy. Being from the small Newfoundland town of Clarenville, Stagg would also have reasonable familiarity with the seafaring life. Besides showing an appreciation for the culture f coastal communities, Lucy Grey also offers hope for the future.
My main reservation about Lucy Grey is the point of view with which Stagg chose to tell it. The most popularly accepted perspective in a children’s book is a boy or girl who is slightly older than the target audience. That said, there doesn’t seem to be a real limit. There have been narrators as old as senior citizens. Alternatively, the main character could be an animal. One of the least common choices, however, is inanimate objects. Some famous stories have featured dolls or wind-up toys, but I suspect their physical human features make it’s easier for children to pretend that the’re real. A boat is different. No matter how many anthropomorphic traits are attributed to inanimate objects, the less they resemble humans the more difficult it is to empathize with them.
View of Clarenville, NFLD, Canada, from the sea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In a regional story like Lucy Grey, my fear then is that it will lack universal appeal. Stagg is known in Newfoundland literary circles for his affectionate depiction of rural life, but this is a description which seems best suited to adults or educational circles. Indeed, Access My Library recommends Lucy Grey as a supplement to social studies curriculum to help younger students “in a study of communities and occupations”. To provide Lucy Grey with more universal appeal, I wonder if Stagg might have been better telling the story from the viewpoint of Johnny. It’s Johnny’s family who owns the boat Lucy Grey. It’s Johnny who plays with Lucy Grey and pretends he’s a fisherman like his father and grandfather. It’s Johnny who waits for the return of Lucy Grey to the village wharf. And it’s Johnny who doesn’t want his boat friend sold. I could see young readers rooting for Johnny’s plight.
Lucy Grey is a bittersweet story with a positive ending. The reality is that Newfoundland’s fishery did collapse and many families were displaced. Stagg has accurately captured this disaster. Yet people who live by the sea have instinctual survival instincts, which means many families found new ways to make revenue and to take pride in their province. Lucy Grey is a lovely tribute to them but will probably have limited appeal to outsiders. Whereas for anyone from Newfoundland, Lucy Grey is a picturesque and endearing picture book.
My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.
How would you rate this book?