CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 3 . . . . September 18, 2015
This alphabet book is a successful meeting of the minds of two award-winners: a writer with first-hand knowledge of, and obvious passion for, the subject, and an illustrator with a keen eye for detail that brings nature to life. From its cover panorama of eagle and bear set against pounding surf, rocks and tall evergreens, past end papers littered with beach treasures like kelp, paw prints and sea anemones, and through 26 brief, simply written, informative selections, the reader is immersed in the title setting. Alphabet books abound —even alphabet books about the west coast—but the focus here is fresh for its down-to-earth approach and effortless style.
Writer Deborah Hodge has included some of the expected land animals (bears, cougars, black-tailed deer, coastal wolves), sea creatures (crabs, whales, sea stars, jellies, limpets, sea urchins, fish) and birds (eagles, marbled murrelets, sandpipers) along with huckleberries, the Pacific, rain, "...yellow, the color of the sun....", and the intertidal zone. To complete the alphabet, she's slipped in a few more unusual choices: quillback rockfish, velella velella and xiphister. What a fine opportunity for many of us to learn something new! A rich sensory experience emerges from details that help the reader feel the drenching rain that feeds giant trees, hear the clatter of beach rocks as the bear flips them to find his meal, see how Nature camouflages a fawn, taste huckleberries, and smell the salty treasures left by the tide.
The visual partner in this creation, Karen Reczuch, evokes the essence of realism through the use of depth and color in her detailed watercolor and color pencil illustrations. The rainforest wears softly muted greens, shadowy with thick trees and ferns. The coastal scenes show weathered rock and driftwood on sandy beaches that seem mysterious in sea mist and fog. Undersea, shades of blue are the backdrop for the colors and patterns of plants and fish. Reczuch marries the illustrations cleverly with Hodge's text: for example, in one painting that splits the page horizontally between ocean surface and floor, readers see U is for urchins, their spiky bodies on the underwater rocks attracting a hungry sea otter. The top right half of this page, V is for Velella velella, shows these relatives of jellies drifting at the whim of the wind while a reclining sea otter munches his urchin.
A couple of pages at the back offer more information about the nature of the Pacific west coast environment and why it deserves to be preserved. This detail is supplemented by a few websites and books for further investigation.
West Coast Wild, a delightful glimpse into this amazing geographic location, belongs in the collection of anyone eager for a taste of the wild west coast of North America.
Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.
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