From School Library Journal
Grade 3-5–Rhyming text recounts the early-19th-century sighting of a large, mysterious sea serpent off the coast of Gloucester, MA. In keeping with the historical record, Anderson tells how the whole fishing village repeatedly viewed the creature until it disappeared with the onset of winter; the following summer, thinking they had sighted it far out on the sea, men set out to kill it, only to discover in the end that they had caught a huge mackerel. The narrator would seem to be a boy who runs through the streets announcing the arrival of the strange visitor. Ultimately, readers learn that an old man is recounting this boyhood ex perience for his grandchild. Formal, highly detailed paintings done in acrylic gouache are somber in tone and fill single or double pages. The shiny serpent is more a curiosity than a monstrous threat. Both verse and pictures create a vivid sense of long ago and far away. Yet, the story is a bit flat and somewhat confusing after the dead mackerel scene when the boy and some fishermen row out and view two creatures at play. Was this a dream or a bit of fantasy? All other references, including the author's concluding note on the history of this and other New England sea-serpent sightings, speak of just a single creature. The poetry reads well, and the story is a somewhat nostalgic recollection rather than a dramatic encounter. An evocative introduction to poetic narrative, local legends, or an exploration of a tantalizing subject.– Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston
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Gr. 2-4. The versatile author of works as varied as Handel, Who Knew What He Liked (2001), Feed (2002), and Whales on Stilts (2005) pens a ballad that many will assume came straight from some leather-bound volume of romantic poetry. Inspired by the reported appearances of a sea serpent frolicking in Gloucester harbor in 1817, Anderson writes from the perspective of a boy who witnesses the creature's visitations and is secretly pleased when it evades glory-seeking hunters. Ibatoulline, whose classically inspired artwork has graced Hana in the Time of the Tulips (2004) and others, provides refined gouache paintings that would look at home framed in gilt in a maritime museum. The period sensibility extends to endpapers resembling the decorative, blue-and-white ceramic tiles popular at the time. Many children won't respond to the contained illustration style and distant perspectives, which downplay the story's fantasy elements. But if read aloud with feeling, the poem's forceful rhythms will keep the attention of most audiences, as will the endnote about the legend, which includes additional resources, all written for adults. Jennifer Mattson
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