________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 6. . . .October 9, 2015


A Morning to Polish and Keep.

Julie Lawson. Illustrated by Sheena Lott.
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press, 1992/2015.
40 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-0-88995-521-9.

Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

**** /4



Except for some skylighting seagulls, we were the only living things on the water. But beneath the surface was a whole other world teeming with life. Salmon were making one last sweep of the sea before heading upriver. Spiny-finned rockfish darted in and out of the kelp beds. Moon jellyfish floated like parachutes through the currents.

I imagined a mermaid drifting in and out of the deep sea shadows, playing hide and seek with a golden seal or waiting to catch a glimpse of the sun.

Gradually the sky became lighter. Darkness crept away little by little, turning our world to pale shades of blue and misty gray. Then suddenly—the sky was on fire! We were caught in the blaze of sunrise. Day looked at his watch. “Right on schedule,” he said.

But it was another hour before the fish paid any attention to our hooks and lines. That’s the way it is with fishing. Nothing happens for such a long time, and then when you least expect it…


With a perfectly timed re-release for mid-summer, the reprint of Julie Lawson’s classic book, A Morning to Polish and Keep, is bound to delight a whole new generation of readers. The story of a family off to fish one morning on the west coast focuses on young Amy who is enjoying her “first time up before dawn” and anticipating her first big catch. She’s caught up in the thrill of the moment when the unexpected sighting of orcas causes her to lose her prize, along with her rod, and threatens to spoil the outing. Her disappointment vanishes, though, when her brother reels in the same fish, along with — surprise — the lost rod. Even though it is the end of summer vacation, Amy has the perfect memory to polish and keep.

internal art     This story is so well structured it takes hold of readers right from the title page where someone in the family cabin calls out, “AMY, TIME TO GET UP!” Readers are led down the marshy path, across the wooden bridge and the beach to the wharf as the images pile up: still-star sky, beach littered with crunchy pebbles, barnacles and broken shells, clambering aboard the boat to negotiate the river passage to the sea. At the fishing spot, readers get to watch the baiting of hooks and then must wait for the fish to take notice. There’s just the right amount of tension building though these scenes with long narrative sentences — except for the dramatic moment of sunrise — creating a dreamy mood with plenty of sensory detail. The instant there’s a bite, though, excitement shows in the short, snappy dialogue. Energy reaches a peak when the fish is lost, and the tone shifts to gloom. But lulled by the warm, bright day, readers are ready to jump back to attention with Amy at the second catch. The power of that scene carries readers to the surprise finish, and Amy’s decision to let her brother reel in the fish that was originally hers. The day quickly winds down, but its memories will never fade.

     Specific detail, sensory images and figurative language infuse the story. Readers hear some names of the tackle box “treasures”, such as feathery blue bucktail flies, hoochie-koochies, Tom Mack spoons. Readers learn the family is watching salmon, spiny-finned rockfish, moon jellyfish….maybe a mermaid. Readers savour the smells (“clammy reek of low tide,”), and the feel (“slippery seaweed squished…”) and the alliterative sounds (“sun-struck, sharp and sparkly”). A strong selection of verbs also contributes to the overall sense of place. Always the child’s viewpoint is front and centre as Amy imagines they are the “only people in the world!” that morning and in the way the special appearance of the whales blunts the sharpness of her angst.

internal art     The illustrations offer a splendid companion to the text. Sheena Lott’s soft muted blue, gray, green and lilac watercolours capture the misty morning as details come into view. The first golden sun-bright image shows Amy reeling in her fish, then the excitement of the distraction that instantly changes the mood. The enhanced colours carry through the landing of the salmon and Amy’s radiant smile as she chooses her souvenir lure to keep. Brighter blues and sparkling spray highlight the homeward trip. The last illustration is in black and white — the silver lure hanging in Amy’s bedroom window at home. Each reader is left to “take another look” at that summer morning memory and replay all the colour and excitement from his own perspective.

      The power of memory through one’s growing up years is expertly presented in this captivating and enduring picture book.

Highly Recommended.

Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in 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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