Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Aquatic’ Category

Freddy the Frogcaster is back, this time to tell readers about flash floods. In Janice Dean’s newest title, Freddy makes a mistake in his forecast but then later makes up for it by warning residents of an impending flash flood. Freddy the Frogcaster and the Flash Flood is another informative and entertaining picture book in Dean’s weather series.

Freddy has finally officially become a weekend weather reporter. This pleases him to no end, because he loves thinking, talking, and learning about all kinds of weather. He takes great pride in knowing that the town of Lilypad listens to and trusts his broadcast. Imagine then his dismay when Freddy realizes that the rain had moved north of his town, making his forecast incorrect. Even worse, the townspeople are upset, because they canceled evening events in lieu of the storm. Some of them go so far as to nickname Freddy “False Alarm Freddy”. Readers will relate to how terrible Freddy feels, while also learning through him that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that one should still pursue their dreams.

Despite being upset, Freddy returns to his job where he sees that another storm is on the horizon. Freddy once again issues flood watch warnings, and this time his prediction comes to pass. Floodwaters gush over streams and river banks, causing trees to fall and cars to be swept away. Some families have to be rescued.

Unfortunately, perhaps due to word constraints, Dean rushes through this part of the story. Readers will learn little else about flash floods in the main narrative, but instead will need to turn to the back pages for this information. While I found this section fascinating, especially the trivia about flash floods being the number one weather-related killer in the United States and the summaries of noteworthy historical floods, I would have preferred more of this data to be integrated into Freddy’s story.

Nonetheless, Dean has written yet another engaging story, one that makes weather attractive. The illustrations by Russ Cox remain colorful and reflective of the events in the narrative. Freddy the Frogcaster and the Flash Flood is a good first introduction to the series or a welcome addition for avid fans.

The better the quality, the harder it is for me to resist a Newfoundland picture book. This summer, during an annual visit to my home province, I succumbed to temptation and bought three relatively current titles. Each tells an engaging story, boasts attractive illustrations, and even educated me about the world where I grew up. One can’t always say that about regional books and so I’m super proud to introduce three must-read books to you.

A “national best seller” for three consecutive years, Newfoundland and Labrador Lullaby is a soothing ballad written by songwriter Mary Jane Riemann. Each page of this board book contains short and simple phrases, mostly about six to eight words and one to three syllable words. Several of the spreads feature contrasting phrases. For example, “When the sun rises …. Under moonlit skies.” There’s always the reassuring refrain: “I love you.” The artwork is just as charming and sweet. I appreciate too how the paintings capture the multi-faceted culture of the island. Not only are puffins and whales featured, but so are hockey and picnics. The back pages contain ten bulleted points with random interesting facts such as who the first settlers were and what the provincial wildlife is. My favorite tidbit, simply because of the cute wording, is: “Newfoundland is an island. To get here you must fly, take a boat, or be born here.” If you scan the QR code on the back cover, you can hear the song while looking at the book with your little ones!

A Puffin Playing by the Sea is also based on a song. Author Gina Noordhof has rewritten “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to contain a Newfoundland flavor. As a representative on the Canadian Tourism Commission for four years, Noorhof had the unique opportunity to realize how special and individual each province is—including her own. With the help of a whimsical puffin character, aptly picked as the puffin is Newfoundland’s provincial bird, Noordhof highlights twelve distinct features of the island. The first spread starts out with the familiar refrain: “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me.” Then Noordhof mixes up the traditional carol by ending with the words: “A puffin playing by the sea.” Pictured is a colorful line-drawing of a puffin with a fish in its mouth and looking out to sea. The spread also contains an educational sidebar that details the origins and lifestyle of the puffin. Within the sidebar is also an actual photo of a puffin. On subsequent pages, all just as professionally-rendered, other gifts include: tea dolls, Norsemen, canines, caribou, lighthouses, seals, mummers, whales, codfish, fiddlers, and drummers. As with the Newfoundland and Labrador Lullaby, I appreciated diverse the subjects were that Noordhoff featured. Both those familiar and unfamiliar with Canada’s most eastern province will find themselves educated in an entertaining manner.

A Good Day for Billie is my only pick in this round-up that contains a tale told in a traditional narrative format. This picture book is the result of the author, Rodger Blake, telling bedtime stories to his children. At the forefront is a puffin who enjoys exploring the coastal shores of Newfoundland. One day while Billie is flipping seashells on the beach, he encounters a reddish-orange creature with eight legs. Lava instantly informs Billie that penguins and crabs being friends would be a waste of time. Billie leaves Lava alone but, for the entire rest of the day, both creatures wrestle with doubts about their decision. Although the text is of length that an adult will no doubt need to read the story, the tale is perfectly told. Part of what I most appreciate about A Good Day for Billie is how integral the island’s distinctive features are to the story. Billie encounters fishing villages, icebergs, and many other coastal images all as part of his journey to ask a friend for advice. Even the character of a whale named Charlie is a natural fit. Just as perfectly rendered are the gentle color-pencil illustrations of blue, green, orange, and brown hues. A Good Day for Billie is an absolute delight!

After stockpiling a collection of twenty-one Newfoundland picture books, I decided in 2013 that it was time to become more selective over my purchases. No longer would a title being written by a Newfoundlander and being set in my home province satisfy my literary tastes. Instead I wanted the quality of subsequent purchases to reach the level of the average commercial picture book. The three selections reviewed here I believe will tempt any young reader as much as they did me.

When P’eska wakes up to the First Salmon Ceremony, he sees that the ceremonial tray has been left behind. From Canadian author and illustrator, Scot Ritchie, comes a pleasant tale about a lesser-known First Nations people. In P’eska and the First Salmon Ceremony, readers will learn about the Sts’Ailes people, who have lived on the Harrison River in British Columbia, Canada, for centuries. While I found myself wishing the story had been set in modern times instead of 1000 years ago, I appreciated the inviting illustrations and the educational text.

Woven into a rudimentary plotline is a lot of interesting information about the Sts’Ailes people. As P’eska makes his way with the ceremonial tray to the chief, details are provided about the importance of salmon, cedar, and everything in the forest and river to the Sts’Ailes people. The ceremony is the way the people say thank you to the river for all the salmon it brings. Cedar can be used to make canoes, something P’eska will do when he is an adult. In the woods are found blueberries, one of P’eska’s favorite snacks. Many of these details seem less about trying to entertain and more about providing facts, but the story also has enough of a framework to make it more engaging than a straightforward reference.

The illustrations are created with brush strokes and short-loosely drawn pen lines. Combined with a brown and green palette, the artwork contains warmth. Of special interest is the fact that on every page is a wooly dog. The back pages refer to a white woolly dog native to this area of North America that is now extinct. The Sts’ailes used the fur of these dogs in blankets and clothing. Not only will young readers appreciate the inclusion of a dog, but to me this suggests much attention was given to creating accurate visuals.

My main criticism lies in the historical setting of P’eska and the First Salmon Ceremony. From my research, it seems that many Indigenous groups still hold this special ceremony. If so, why place this tale in the past? It seems unnecessarily misleading, suggesting that such events no longer happen. Also, given the abundance of stories which already exist about ancient times, it seems the best way to educate our young people about the ways of the First Nations people is to show their current world.

I couldn’t find any information about Scot Ritchie’s background. However, his details about the First Salmon Ceremony seem accurate. Also, it speaks volumes that a chief of the Sts’Ailes People expressed pleasure in seeing P’eska and the First Salmon Ceremony. Despite minor complaints, I recommend this picture book as a good initial introduction to a lesser-known First Nations.

My rating? Read it:  Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

How can one resist the opportunity to read Jean Craighead George’s last novel? From the author of My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves comes a tale of a great whale named Siku and the young Inuit boy. Actually, Ice Whale wasn’t quite finished when Jean Craighead George died in 2012 and so it was completed with the help of her two grown children. While the nature writing is well done, no one character is fully developed, and so this final story of hers is of uneven quality.

Nature writing was a clear strength for George. According to her website, besides having started to write at the early age of third grade, George came from a family of naturalists. On weekends, the family would camp in the woods near their home, gather edible plants, and climb trees to study owls. Later, George attended Penn State University graduating with a degree in Science and Literature. After her children were born, George returned to her love of nature and brought over 170 wild animals into their home, many of whom became characters in her books. Her love for and expertise of wildlife radiates through all of her animal stories, including Ice Whale.

Told in alternating voices, both human and whale, the latter’s narrative is especially strong. In chapter two, for example, we read how Siku’s mother taught him. She introduced him to the best coastal currents to travel on for migration. She showed him the importance of the sun. The bright rays that shone on the open water were angled—and became his clock and calendar. He learned how to find his way. As an adult, he would one day break ice three feet thick. Such is the early life of a bowhead whale.

Setting is also another clear strength for George. According to her website, George often traveled to the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory in Alaska to visit one of her grown children who serves as a biologist and studies the bowhead whales in Barrows. Her son would take George out to the science camp on the sea ice. There, she slept at -35 below zero, climbed great blocks of ice, and watched the open ocean for bowhead whales. She came to know the Eskimo whaling captains and visited their ice camps. In addition, George ate blubber, carried a gun to scare off polar bears, and dressed like an Eskimo to keep warm. The visits inspired more than one nature novel. Her love for and knowledge of the Inuit people comes through unmistakably in her stories of the cold North, including that of Ice Whale.

One of my favorite scenes is of Emily Toozak, after she becomes lost on an ice floe. In chapter twenty, for example, we read of how her Arctic instincts take over. She learns to make a shelter with a blanket and some broken boards. She tastes small bites of kelp blade. She searches out old ice to find water that is fresh and drained of salt. And then she began to think about how to get home.

Unfortunately, the lack of character development makes for a sometimes difficult read. George attempts to weave an epic tale that spans 200 years and multiple generations whose fate are tied to one whale. Perhaps if Siku’s narrative had taken on more of the center stage. Or perhaps if the curse of the Toozak family had simply been limited to the background story for Emily Toozak. Maybe then I would have felt more connected to this meaningful story.

As Ice Whale stands, I’d recommend first-time readers of Jean Craighead George seek out some of her other more famous works to start. Fans should however treasure her lyrical and wondrous voice. They’ll also appreciate her thought-provoking themes of the circle of life, environmentalism, and friendship. George has left behind a precious legacy, of which Ice Whale is a heartfelt coda.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Scuba diving certification. Father and daughter. The Caribbean. In a recent presentation about adventure writing, Peter Lourie emphasized that appeal of his career lies in the information he learns, the people he meet, and the places he visits. The same holds true for me in my reading of his personal nonfiction text, First Dive to Shark Dive.

Before Suzanna could dive with sharks, she first needed to receive her Professional Association of Diving Instructors certification. Being certified would require Suzanna to become familiar with diving gear by practicing in a swimming pool, read and understand a three-hundred-page diving manual, fill out medical history and liability forms, take a written test, and make four open-water dives with her instructor. Whew! I enjoyed reading about Suzanna’s experience. Photographs are shown of each piece of gear, sometimes modeled by Suzanna herself. Brief journal entries are included from Suzanna’s various dives. One of the most interesting facts that I learned about scuba diving is the most important rule is to keep breathing smoothly and steadily. Lungs can be injured by even slight pressure changes if a diver holds her breath.

Suzanna is Peter Lourie’s twelve-year-old daughter. An appeal to me of First Dive to Shark Dive is that it’s about his trip with her to the Caribbean, where she not only learns to scuba dive but also to swim with sharks. The latter idea both excited and terrified Suzanna. While I would have liked to know why Suzanna had this wish, I found fascinating to read about all her adventures in the Caribbean. Each night, Suzanna and her dad would walk out on the dive dock to look for the mythical Chickcharmies. In addition, when they had time to explore the island itself, they visited old pirate caves. Suzanna also wanted to meet a woman who knew about bush medicine. And, of course, her journal entries about shark dives made me wish I were there.

The final topic I’ll cover in my write-up about First Dive to Shark Dive is the setting. Peter Lourie focuses on Andros Island, a diving paradise in the Caribbean. Andros Island is considered the largest, most unexplored island in the Bahamas, and a spectacular place to dive. They stayed at a modest lodge, which featured no pool, no phones, and no television. “Suzanna would be able to focus all her energy on getting certified as a diver.” One of the most interesting facts I learned about Andros is the geography is what makes its mysterious. The island is packed with sinkholes, which are connected to deep-ocean sinkholes miles offshore through a series of twisted caverns and tunnels deep under the sea, where sea devils and mermaids are said to live.

As with other Peter Lourie offerings, First Dive to Shark Dive is a highly visual and informative true adventure narrative. While it lacks the perks of back pages, I appreciated the personal nature of this text about a seven-day father-daughter vacation.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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