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The Little Island (Dell Picture Yearling) Paperback – October 1, 1993
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Children's books often contain more themes and important messages than 400 page novels. The Little Island is one of the great masterpieces in achieving that remarkable accomplishment.
The book covers the four seasons as they affect the little island and the plants and animals that visit the island. To show the on-going nature of the process, the book's time line expands beyond a single year.
The island is described as being:
"A part of the world
and a world of its own
all surrounded by the bright blue sea."
On the island, you will connect with birds, tides, clouds, fish, fogs, spiders, flowers, lobsters, seals, kingfishers, gulls, wild strawberries, butterflies, herring, mackerel, seaweed, pears, a black crow, a little kitten on a boat, trees, bushes, rocks, moths, an owl, a storm, snow, the sun, wind, and rain.
The connection to Donne is made in the context of the kitten visitor to the island. "May be I am an island too . . . a little fur Island in the air."
The connections run in all directions. The kitten learns from the island that the island is connected to all of the other land. When the kitten doubts the island about this point, the island suggests asking a fish. The kitten gets the answer there, but cannot get firm proof. He just has to take the fish's word for it. This is an obvious allusion to the element of faith in our understanding of the spiritual nature of our connections to one another. Having the kitten fish is also an allusion to the famous Biblical reference of teaching a man to fish, rather than providing him with fish.
The book uses other connections to make the point. Many animals need the little island to go through their annual cycle, such as the seals who raise their young on the island. Many of the insects and birds come from the mainland across the sea. The weather affects the sea, the island, and the mainland alike . . . as do the tides.
Some of the illustrations are so beautiful that you will want to carry them with you always. My favorite was of the kingfishers.
The story will be strengthened by what you choose to share with you child as you read the book out loud. There are opportunities here to share scientific facts, spiritual connections, and to explain the mutual dependency that occurs in nature.
I suspect that many people's lives have been enriched by the warm connections this book makes. Shouldn't your children and grandchildren have the same opportunity?
See the forest and the trees!
Other reviewers have noted the descriptions of plants and wildlife, and yes, these aspects are beautiful. But the "meat" of the book is when a cat comes to the island with its people on a boat, and learns that the island is much more than it seems. The pages describing the cat's journey to knowledge are magical. The cat thinks that the island doesn't matter much, because it's not connected to the world around it. 'Yes I am', says the island; 'ask the fish'. The cat catches a fish and demands to know how the island is part of the bigger land. 'Come with me', says the fish. 'I cannot swim', says the cat. 'Then you will have to take it on faith', says the fish. 'What is that - faith?' asks the cat. "Faith is to believe what I tell you about what you don't know", says the fish. (That line almost knocked me over; what a wonderful piece of writing!) "All lands are one land under the sea", says the fish. The cat realizes he has learned a great truth, and his eyes "were shining with the secret of it, and because he loved secrets, he let the fish go". Then the cat leaves the island, and the island settles back into the timeless cycle of the seasons.
Like Margaret Wise Brown's other books, this one looks at the world with a sense of wonder and discovery, and maybe makes both parent and child see things with a new set of eyes. (I think of the last line of Brown's "My World" - "My tree; the bird's tree - how many stripes on a bumblebee?") I look forward to sharing this book with my daughter when she's a little older.