________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 20. . . .January 29, 2010


Maritime Monsters: A Field Guide.

Steve Vernon. Illustrated by Jeff Solway.
Halifax, NS: Nimbus Publishing, 2009.
32 pp, pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-55109-727-5.

Subject Heading:
Monsters-Atlantic Provinces-Humor-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3 and up / Ages 8 and up.

Review by Alison Mews.

*** /4



Seashells are the cellphones of the sea.

If you find a seashell as pink as the big toe of a baby angel and as small as the cup of your mother’s hand and hold it to your ear, you will hear the sound of mermaids singing to the rain clouds. No one can tell you exactly which shell to pick up and listen to but when you find it you will know.

Mermaids have been seen dozens of times in the water surrounding the Maritimes and the stories about them run as thick as blackflies in the north woods.

This is one of them.

Tall tales are meant to be told aloud with plenty of exaggeration and humour, and Maritime Monsters is brimming with both, as well as being filled with creative similes, thoughtful metaphors and silly puns. The 15 folkloric tall tales of mermaids, werewolves, sea monsters and other creatures have been collected from the four Atlantic provinces and presented in a mock field guide. Alongside each one-page story are the field notes that provide the origin of the story and other descriptive details of the ‘monster,’ such as its diet, size, description, sightings and special hunting advice. These notes are an amusing mixture of nonsense and legend and add to the fun of the spoof. For instance, the New Brunswick Gougou has a diet of “seals and sea fish and sailors” and was first reported sighted by Samuel de Champlain in the 1600's; “however, the Maliseet and Mi’kmaq have been telling tales about old Gougou since back before calendars came into fashion”.

internal art     Steve Vernon also varies the voice of the storyteller. The tale about the Nova Scotian giant canary is told from the perspective of a housecat who asserts that “the only thing humans are good for is ear-skritching and opening cans” and who wonders why they hang their wet fur on ropes in the garden (although he is appreciative of a birdseed feeder that attracts “those feathered chew toys”). Mostly, the tales are in the third person, but occasionally the narration switches to the first person, giving disclaimers or advice such as that pertaining to hunting for the lake monster Old Ned “- and I’ve heard he’s fond of the taste of salt cod and pickled pork”.

    The lurid cartoon illustrations will appeal especially to lovers of comic books and graphic novels. While many of the pictures depict fearsome creatures and their frightened victims, there are also many that have a comedic element that extend the tongue-in-cheek nature of the stories.


Alison Mews is the librarian of the Curriculum Materials Centre at the Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, NL.

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

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