________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 10 . . . .January 20, 2006


Sink or Swim.

Valerie Coulman. Illustrated by Rogé.
Montreal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2003.
32 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 1-894222-96-2.

Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 3-8.

Review by Sandi Harrison.

***½ /4



Ralph was watching a duck family splash in the pond on the far side of the meadow. “We could go swimming,” he said. Morris turned to stare.

“Ralph, we don’t know how to swim.”

“Well not yet, we don’t,” Ralph assured him. “But we could learn.”


This beautifully illustrated picture book tells the hilarious tale of Morris and Ralph, cows who desperately want to learn to swim. Through trial and error, persistent pessimism from other wildlife and the courage to risk looking foolish, Morris and Ralph give swimming their best shot. In the end, they discover that with a little dedication and quick thinking, although cows can’t learn to swim, they can learn to surf!

internal art     Award-winning picture book author Valerie Coulman has succeeded in creating another wonderfully funny story that will appeal to children of all ages. The writing is, for the most part, simple and condensed, although sentences on certain pages are a little longer, making this book more suitable as a read-aloud. The cows’ dilemma leads them to mimic swimming techniques of ducks, turtles, frogs, and, finally, people. Coulman’s description of how each animal and reptile moves through the water will be of interest to children (who can also mime the described actions). Bubbles Bob outfits the cows with goggles, flippers, and bathing suits for their plunges into the water. The “try, try again” motto is obvious but not overstated. Ralph, who, unlike Morris, does not want to give up no matter how many times he tries and fails, solves their disadvantage by returning to Bubbles Bob and choosing to try surfing to get close to the water.

     Children will be able to identify with Ralph's and Morris’ struggle in a positive way and will learn how an optimistic outlook can make even the most tedious of situations worthwhile and fun. Rogé, the award-winning Montreal artist, has created rich, highly stylized and colourful illustrations that offer humour and interest. The underwater illustrations are especially fun, with colourful, friendly fish darting in and out of the pages, sometimes eating dinner, playing cards, or reading a book. The illustrations accentuate the well-written story, without overpowering it, by adding unique details, such as the cows’ wearing swim caps over their noses. Together, Coulman and Rogé have developed a story that will make children chortle with delight and will warm the hearts of adults. In Sink or Swim, Ralph and Morris learn that they can do anything they want to do - including be cows!

Highly Recommended.

Sandi Harrison is a student in the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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