CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 5. . . .October 2, 2015
A Puffin Playing by the Sea presents a highly original version of the familiar and favorite Christmas song. With the aim of showcasing some of the special features of her home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the author has chosen local animals (puffins, Newfoundland dogs, caribou, seals, whales, codfish), customs (tea dolls, mummers, fiddlers) and history (Norse-men, lighthouses) for each simple verse of the song. Included with the verses set out on double-page spreads, information about these elements and other aspects of island life add interest and educational value.
The illustrations by Derek Peddle are a delight. Through whimsy and attention to detail, he has brought the puffin to life in the 12 guises and appropriate poses needed to fit the song. Who would expect to see a puffin howling like canines, for instance? Don’t miss the ninth verse where Puffin attempts to breach like whales….and doesn’t quite get it right. Hilarious! The illustrations are repeated on a single page at the back, along with the musical score. No biography note about the illustrator, though!
The only disappointment with this book is the layout. After the invitation of a stunning cover showing Puffin in Christmas garb on a cheery red background, young readers in particular will expect to open the book and see more of that appealing character right away. Instead, the first page contains the details normally shown on a title page verso, or at the back of the book (which would work best in this case): dedication, photo credits, editorial list, a map. Kids (even adults) aren’t interested in that at first; they want the story to begin. And when it does, it is interrupted on every page with the encyclopedic-style information about each feature in a broad sidebar on the right side. Generally, with a mix of story and fact, this kind of detail written at an adult reading level is placed at the back for further reading by those interested. That way, the pleasurable experience of the lively and amusing story with its bright, animated illustrations can be had without distraction. Clearly, A Puffin Playing by the Sea can be enjoyed on more than one level and reread for its separate purposes, something a different layout would facilitate and enhance.
The author plans to extend this concept with books on each province. It would make a fun collection to highlight our Canadian heritage.
Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.
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