Jason and the Sea Otter.
Joe Barber-Starkey. Illustrated by Paul Montpellier.
Preschool - grade 3 / Ages 4 - 8.
The weather had been calm for many days now, and the long swell of the ocean rocked the canoe gently. The smell of the cedar of the dugout canoe and of the tar which patched its ancient hull combined with the background odours of salt water and seaweed, while an occasional offshore movement of air brought the delicious scent of the sunbaked needles which were thick on the ground under the spruce trees on the islands. The soft cries of the drowsy sea birds, the soothing sounds of humming insects and the gentle lapping sound of the water against the canoe did not make him want to do anything else but to be still, watch and listen.
When I read the above excerpt from Jason and the Sea Otter, I could feel and smell the pungent atmosphere of a summer day on salt water, a pleasant contrast from the raging March blizzard of a Maritime spring that was taking place outside my window.
This book, the story of Jason, a young Nootka boy living on the coast of British Columbia, captures perfectly the way of life of the Nootka people and, in particular, tells of Jason's fascination with marine life as he paddles his dugout canoe to a bed of kelp. He ties his canoe to the kelp, jigs for cod, and then, with the aid of a bottomless bucket, gazes down into the depths of the water.
Paul Montpellier's colourful stylized illustrations add tremendous vitality to the story via their sympathetic portrayal of life in a Nootka village. It is refreshing to read about Jason, a child who entertains himself by finding total absorption in observing nature. He recognizes the necessity of moving quietly and slowly in order to get closer to wildlife, but suddenly the serenity is shattered when he falls overboard into ice cold water. The story's pace picks up as Jason, struggling to regain the safety of his canoe, is unexpectedly aided by a sea otter.
This book will have special appeal for children in the lower grades, because, like Robert McCloskey's books of life on the Atlantic coast, for example Time of Wonder, Joe Barber-Starkey has written an almost three-dimensional story; in this instance, one which recreates the atmosphere of British Columbia's Pacific coast. Jason and the Sea Otter is the kind of book that adults will never tire of reading to children in their care. Both author and illustrator have subtly presented details of the Nootka way of life in a manner which flows with the story rather than being forcefully injected out of context.
Joan Payzant, a retired teacher and teacher-librarian, lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, which is now part of HRM or Halifax Regional Municipality.
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