________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV . . . . August 31, 2007


Becca at Sea.

Deirdre Baker.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi Press, 2007.
165 pp., pbk. & cl., $9.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (cl.).
ISBN 978-0-88899-738-8 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-88899-737-1 (cl.).

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Kristin Butcher.

**½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reader Copy.


The plumber arrived by sea.

“And a good thing, too,” remarked Gran, as Becca rowed them out to pick him up at the mooring buoy. “Pull on the starboard oar, Becca.”

“I am.”

Becca had to row hard. Waves were bouncing into the Zodiac.

“It will give Fifi time to collect her wits,” Gran said. “She gets herself into these states. Hard on the port. And I do wish I hadn’t invited Mac, too, if pie is all we have for dinner.”

For after all, Aunt Fifi had not got beyond making a pie. The plumber bobbed about in a fancy motorboat, trying to make fast to Inglenooks’ mooring buoy.

“It’s an addlepated place for a mooring buoy,” Gran said. “This is no bay to spend the night in a boat. No protection and with the tide in and out so far there’s no depth.”

“He’s just coming for dinner, isn’t he?” Becca asked.

“With Fifi around, we’ll be lucky if he stays that long,” Gran said. “Hullo, Merlin. Are you ready for a ferry ride?”

The plumber raised his red face, pushed back a shock of hair.

“I am,” he said. “And look! A surprise! My brother-in-law told me to try out his boat, so I did some fishing on the way.”

He brandished a salmon. “You are a magician if you managed to snag one of those,” Gran said. “Foresightful, too.”

Merlin climbed over the stern of his boat and into the lifting, falling Zodiac. “Thanks for coming out to ferry me. I thought I might have to swim in.”


After co-authoring two children’s literature guides and writing reviews for the Horn Book and Toronto Star for several years, Deirdre Baker has turned her hand to creating fiction. Her debut novel is titled Becca at Sea.

     The story focuses on the experiences of 10-year-old Becca during three separate visits to a small island off the coast of British Columbia. The island is home to Becca’s grandmother, a tried and true islander who is not only wise in the ways of nature, but who embraces her surroundings and weaves them into her daily life. She is matriarch to a fairly large and quirky family whose members are always coming and going. First and foremost, there is Aunt Fifi—an eccentric English professor with a feisty temper and strong ideas on every topic from Shakespeare to blackberry-picking. Her favorite sparking partner—in more ways than one—is the island’s plumber. Numerous other aunts and uncles flit in and out of the action, as do bossy and boring cousins, and a variety of neighbors and visitors—human and otherwise. Interestingly enough, it is Becca’s parents who are barely present.

     Becca’s adventures begin in February when her mother and father leave her with her grandmother for 16 days while they fly off for a holiday in Europe. Unlike Becca’s other visits to the island, this one is quiet. She and Gran are the only family present. Her grandmother seems to dole out endless chores, but she also teaches Becca much about nature, and Becca even finds an oyster containing 18 pearls. (The novel’s working title was Twenty-two Pearls, so one can’t help wonder what happened to the other four pearls.)

     The next island visit occurs in May when several family members show up to help plant Gran’s garden. Once freed from work, Becca’s older cousins, Alicia and Lucy, tease/goad Becca into an adventure that very nearly gets them all lost and killed. It is Becca—the youngest of the three—who gets them out of the jam.

     Likewise in the summer, during Becca’s final stint on the island, it is her quick thinking and level head that keeps her aunt and uncle from being dragged out to sea in a sailboat. It is also Becca who brings her grandmother’s ailing garden back to life, and it is Becca who solves the crime of the produce poacher. And when Aunt Fifi’s carelessness starts a chimney fire, Becca is the one who saves the day.

     Becca at Sea is a charming little story, beautifully written. Some of the passages are almost lyrical. The novel embodies innocence, understanding, compassion, morality, and humor. The scenes are skillfully drawn, and Becca’s family is a real joy.

     Delightful as it is, however, the novel has an adult sensibility about it. The imagery, humor, and even the very manner in which Baker has dramatized the scenes are done from an adult perspective. The story is told in third person, and though readers could be privy to the inner workings of Becca’s mind, Baker rarely goes there. Insights into the little girl’s thoughts and feelings generally take the form of fleeting questions that are never explored. As a result, the story has a superficial feel, as though it were being told from a distance—like a grown-up looking back. This is not a problem for adults, but it might be a turn-off for younger readers.

Recommended with reservations.

Kristin Butcher lives and writes in Campbell River, BC.

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

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