CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 13 . . . . March 2, 2001
"Lead the way!" Barker barked, and they swam like two streaksWritten in verse reminiscent of books by Bill Peet, this is the tale of a crusty, old dogfish named Barker McGee whose meanness is the result of his long-ago failure to save his family from a fisher's net. He is given a chance to redeem himself when Casey, a small fish, pleads for his help to release another net full of fish. Barker overcomes his guilt and shows his determination in a dramatic rescue.
Barker is an engaging and animated main character. Both illustrator and author have painted him in dark tones, one with color (deep purple) and the other with language (tough as the sole of an old leather shoe, scarred, grumpy, gruff, eyes bloodshot yellow, bitter) achieving a successful integration of text and art.
The choice of verse is a good one; the story has not been sacrificed to the rhyme. With a sprinkling of alliteration, onomatopoeia and plenty of imagery, the writing flows well, maintaining a strong plot while providing a lively read-aloud. The story is fast-paced and suspenseful. Young listeners will be glued to their seats anticipating the next turn of the page, and, by the end, they will cheer the transformation of Barker along with all his grateful fishy friends.
The watercolor and ink illustrations are done in pleasing colors against a backdrop of various shades of sea green. Most are double-spreads. Kids will enjoy the detail and activity of the undersea world, its appealing sea creatures (with most expressive eyeballs!), sunken pirate ships and a biplane complete with the bones of pirate and pilot, still dressed. Librarians will enjoy the chance to display the dust jacket since the book's cover is the same.
One minor quibble is with the use of the term 'fishermen' rather than today's more acceptable 'fishers'.
BC's Gillian Richardson is a former teacher-librarian and a published writer of children's fiction and nonfiction.
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