________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 32. . . .April 24, 2015


Avis Dolphin.

Frieda Wishinsky. Illustrated by Willow Dawson.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2015.
164 pp., hardcover & ePUB, $16.95 (hc.), $14.95 (ePUB).
ISBN 978-1-55498-489-3 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-490-9 (ePUB).

Subject Headings:
Lusitania (Steamship)-Juvenile fiction.
Shipwrecks-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Natalie Schembri.

**** /4 Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



“What happens next?” I ask. His eyes have that far-away look again. It’s like he’s sailing to Foula already.

“Let’s leave the end of the story till tomorrow,” he says. “We’ll finish it on our last day.”

“But I want to know what happens today. You have to tell me, Professor. Please.”

“Ah, Avis, storytellers like to leave their listeners begging for me, dangling at a suspenseful moment. It heightens the drama.”

“I don’t want to heighten the drama. I want to know if Jill will be safe. Do you think she will?”


Avis Dolphin is the captivating, and imaginative, story of young Avis Dolphin’s seven day voyage along the Atlantic ocean aboard the Lusitania, or the Big Lusy. Accompanied by two young women, Hilda and Sarah (nurses who worked at her mother’s home for the sick and aged) Avis heads by train from Canada to the New York City dock where the trio, and approximately 1,955 others, board a ship headed for England. However, the year is 1915, and fear looms among the passengers of the Lusy; travellers are afraid of the alarming threats of war described in the newspaper headlines that suggest German U-boats could torpedo the Lusy as it approaches England. Avis, too, is anxious about the wartime journey, but also about missing her mother in Canada, and starting school and life anew in England with her grandparents.

     Together, Frieda Wishinsky and Willow Dawson tell an incredible story of unlikely friendship, travelling during wartime, and, most importantly, hope. I truly relished reading the predominantly wordless graphic novel-style story-within-the-story. What an incredibly enchanting feature to accompany the already enjoyable narrative! To situate the story-within-the-story feature of Avis Dolphin: Avis befriends the knowledgeable and charming Professor Ian Holbourn, Laird of Foula, who takes the young girl under his wing and tells her about the beautiful island of Foula, including a thrilling story involving a mermaid, a girl named Jill, the bogeyman, and a giant. Each time Avis and the Professor meet, the professor continues to share an episode of his Foula story, and Avis is left to imagine what will happen next on the incredibly luscious, remote island. This story-within-a-story is bursting with flora and fauna, adventure, treasure, and fear. The graphic novel-style episodes of Avis Dolphin provide our protagonist with an opportunity to escape fears of U-boats and leaving home, and transport her to a magical place. Dawson’s enchanting black inked panels take readers on a secondary journey aboard the Lusy, an imaginative journey. Alongside Avis, readers take on the role of storyteller to narrate the wordless panels.

     I appreciate that the story is followed by an author’s note that provides readers with historical information about World War I while also describing the historical inspiration for the character of Avis Dolphin and Professor Holbourn.

     I would highly recommend Avis Dolphin for Canadian school and public library collections. This story will appeal to children interested in historical fictional, World War I, graphic novel-style illustrations, and imaginative storytelling. This is an incredibly engaging story.

Highly Recommended.

Natalie Schembri is a librarian in Vancouver, BC.

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

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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