The Traveler’s Gift by Danielle Davison, illustrated by Anne Lambelet (9781624147654)
Liam’s father was a sailor who always brought back stories of his time a sea. Liam loved the way his father’s stories could transport him. But when his father didn’t return from a voyage, Liam lost the ability to connect with stories any longer. It wasn’t until an unusual man with an amazing multi-colored beard arrived on a ship that Liam heard stories that could compare with his father’s. The man asked for a volunteer to accompany him on his next journey, and out of a crowd of people, he selected Liam. The two traveled together with the man showing Liam how to listen and how to see things. After some time together, the man reached the end of his travels and offered Liam a gift, a gift of stories and storytelling.
Davison celebrates the power of stories and storytelling in this picture book. She explores how important stories are to create connection and then how dark life can be when that bridge of stories is gone. The traveler is an interesting character with his gift of stories but also his touch of magic, his multi-colored beard telling the tales along with him. Seen as strange by some but awe-inspiring for someone like Liam who uses stories as a language.
The illustrations use color very cleverly. Liam goes from a life of full color to one of grays, blacks and whites, his world tinged with grief and loss. Everyone around him to are in muted colors, except for the Traveler, who arrives with his bright beard of greens, reds and yellows that offer space for stories to appear. At the end of the book, readers will see the gift of stories pass to Liam with a transfer of the colors as well. It’s beautifully and touching.
A great story all about the power of stories. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Page Street Kids.
And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Rovina Cai (9780062860729)
Get ready for a tale that will literally turn your perspective upside down. This is a novel that takes Moby Dick and transforms it into something new and fresh. Bathsheba is a hunter, serving her Captain and hunting men. As whales, they have their own ships, pulled by their Captain and containing the spoils of war. Whales waste nothing, unlike men. There is one man, Toby Wick, who is legendary. Having taken a man hostage, they have him lead them to Wick. But Bathsheba finds herself connecting with their prisoner and she refuses to kill him, making excuses to keep him alive with them. They continue their hunt of Wick, all heading to their destinies.
Ness draws readers immediately underwater and into the gravity-defying world of the whales. There is no chance to catch your breath and find your balance, instead you must trust in the current and follow where Ness leads you. His storytelling is that of a master, offering brevity and clarity as he builds a marvelous world below the surface of the water. There is a richness to his writing even though it is so crisp too, emotions deep and generations long playing out on the page.
Bathsheba is a compelling main character, filling the page with her doubts and questions about prophecies and destinies even as the book draws her closer and closer to her own. Throughout the book there is a feeling of a tragedy playing out before you, the homage to Moby Dick is deftly done. Readers familiar with the classic will immediately see the strong connections and still it is also a fascinating read without knowing the classic at all.
Another tremendously original and marvelous read from Ness. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from ARC provided by HarperTeen.
The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship by Philip Pullman, illustrated by Fred Fordham (9781910989296, Amazon)
This is Philip Pullman’s first graphic novel and what a way to start! It is the story of the Mary Alice, a ship that is caught traveling through time. Her crew is from all over the world and from all parts of time. But they are in danger as one of the most powerful men in the modern day is searching for them because the boy on board the Mary Alice, John Blake, knows his secret and could ruin him. When an Australian girl falls off of her family’s boat, she is rescued by John and taken aboard the Mary Alice. Now she has a chance to save them in return, if she can.
Pullman’s graphic novel reads like a film script. It is full of guns, explosions, and fights that make it a wild read. Then there is the historical piece to it, something that slows the intense momentum and makes the book warmer and more vital. Add in the touch of ghostly science fiction that moves the ship through time and you have a rich mix of genres that is impossible to stop reading.
Fordham’s art is done in full color, rich and vibrant on the page. His art is clear and precise, offering children reading this book a real feel of adult graphic novels. There is no cuteness here, just a realistic science fiction ghost story that is exactly what will lead young readers to search for more graphic novels and comics to read.
Get this into the hands of children who love super hero comics and they will fall hard for John Blake and the Mary Alice. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.
Dare the Wind: The Record-Breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud by Tracey Fern, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
Ever since she was a little girl, Eleanor Prentiss dreamed of being at sea. Her father had a trading schooner and though others thought he was a fool, he taught his young daughter how to steer it. Most importantly though, he also taught her what few sailors and only some captains knew, how to navigate. Ellen quickly learned how to navigate and started using her new skills on her father’s schooner every chance she got. As she grew older, Ellen married a captain and served as his navigator. Then the two of them acquired a clipper, The Flying Cloud. It was a fast boat, one that could make them bonus money if they could make the trip from New York to San Francisco around Cape Horn in the fastest time ever. It would be down to the innate speed of the Flying Cloud and to the navigating skills of Eleanor. Sea journeys are never simple, especially ones done at high speed through stormy waters. Take an incredible ride with the amazing Eleanor Prentiss, who proved that women can be right at home at sea.
Fern writes with a dynamism that matches this heroine. She has an exuberant quality to her writing and a tone that invites you along on a wild adventure. At the same time, she makes sure that young readers understand how unusual Eleanor Prentiss was at the time with the way she was raised and the knowledge she built and life she led. The book reads like fiction particularly on the journey itself where a series of misfortunes plague their maiden voyage. Even without the race against time, the journey would be harrowing, add in that pressure and you have a nail-biting read.
McCully’s art ranges in this book. She captures Ellen both on land and at sea, her body strong against the roll of the waves. She also paints water with a love for its greens and blues and the depth of color. The storms are violently dark, the harbors a shining blue, this is water in all of its glory.
I grew up in a house named after the ship Flying Cloud and am so pleased to read a picture book about the ship’s history and learn more about the woman who navigated her. This is one dynamic and well-told biographical picture book. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus Giroux.
Snowcial: An Antarctic Social Network Story by Chelsea Prince, photography by Keoki Flagg and Robert Pittman
This nonfiction book follows the journey of a family to visit the Antarctic Peninsula. They travel aboard an icebreaker ship that has an ice breaking hull but sails only in warmer temperatures. Along the way, the children in the family, Anna and Rory explore the ship. They watch the different birds that follow the ship and find out information on their habitat and how they survive out at sea. Soon they are seeing icebergs, glaciers and lots of snow and ice. They also get to visit places where penguins and seals live. They even spot some killer whales hunting in the ocean. A mix of science and exploration, this book invites readers along on a journey to an icy world that is full of life.
Price sets just the right tone with her book. She writes with a merry voice, one that invites children reading the book to learn right alongside her and her characters. Throughout the book there is a sense of adventure and a strong tie to information and science. This is a book that teaches in an easy and welcoming way.
While Price sets the tone, the incredible photography from Flagg and Pittman truly capture the setting. Their close ups of wounded penguins, hunted seals, and the activity of a penguin colony truly allow readers to see Antarctica up close. Their photography is visually beautiful but also a way to learn more about this incredible place.
Brilliant science nonfiction, join the journey to Antarctica with this gorgeous book. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Chelsea Print and Publishing.
Captain Cat by Inga Moore
Captain Cat is a trader, but he’s not very good at making profitable deals. You see, instead of trading for riches, he trades for cats. So his ship is full of them. All of the other traders make fun of him for this, but Captain Cat is very happy surrounded by the furry creatures. He decides to head off and see new places, far from the trade routes he usually travels. On the way, he is caught in a violent storm that blows him off course, right off the map! There he discovers a small rocky island led by a young queen. She and the population are very friendly, and have never seen cats before. When the cats take care of the island’s rat problem, the queen begs Captain Cat to leave them behind. What is a cat-loving caption to do?
This is a very engaging book. It was different right off of the bat with a sailor surrounded by cats who hate water. Throughout the story, it continues to surprise and delight. It never heads where you expect it to, yet ends up being completely delightful both along the way and in the end. Unlike many picture books, Moore tells a full story here. It not only has the structure of a full story, but also has a depth that can be missing in picture books.
The illustrations are finely done with lots of details. Done in mixed media, they have fine lines and soft colors. Thanks to their detail, this book would best be used with small groups or individual children.
Take a feline-filled journey with this clever picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Heroes of the Surf by Elisa Carbone, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
In the nineteenth century, the Pliny is on its way from South America to New York City. Aboard the ship are many families, including two young friends Anthony and Pedro, who spend the journey pretending to be pirates. The boys are having a grand time together until one night when a storm hits. Even the lifeboats are of no use, as they are smashed by the growing waves. The night goes silent when the engines stop working, leaving them at the mercy of the storm. Then the captain sends up a distress beacon. Soon there are people on the shore and a cannon is aimed in their direction. Could it be pirates after all? Instead of a cannonball, a rescue line and buoy are shot onto the ship. It takes a harrowing zip line to safety until all of the crew and passengers are safe and warm at the Long Branch Life Saving Station, a precursor to the Coast Guard.
Carbone writes with a lot of detail here, exploring this story based on the real disaster of this ship. Told through the point of view of Anthony, the story stays riveting and thrilling right through to the end. From the drama of the storm itself to the striking rescue efforts, this book is filled with tension and adventure. Carbone also carefully builds the world of the 19th century, making sure that readers know where they are in history and how brave the efforts of the rescuers are.
Carpenter completes the historical tone of the book with her own detailed images of the 19th century. From the clothing to the mannerisms, this book clearly reveals the time and place of its setting. Carpenter does not shy away from the drama, instead leaning into it with her wild expanses of stormy water, the drama of almost slipping off the deck, and the wonder of the rescue.
A powerful mix of history and adventure, this fictional book will be popular with pirate and nonfiction readers. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.