CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 3. . . .September 22, 2017
The Puffin Patrol.
St. John’s, NL: Pennywell Books/Flanker Press, 2017.
32 pp., pbk. & pdf, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-77117-605-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-77117-606-4 (pdf).
Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.
Review by Alex Matheson.
Susan and Ryan had learned how the pufflings leave their cozy burrows at night to take their first flights. On clear nights, the pufflings use the stars to guide them safely out to sea.
But when the nights are cloudy and the stars are hidden, these sweet little birds see the lights from the shore and fly the wrong way.
The Puffin Patrol, a fictional tale written and illustrated by Dawn Baker, is set in the small community of Witless Bay, Newfoundland. The story follows Susan and some friends as they carry out their Puffin Patrol duties.
Readers are first introduced to Susan, then Susan’s friend Ryan, and Ryan’s older sister Megan. The narrative follows these three as they take on different roles with the Puffin Patrol. The characters here are not truly the focus of the book; they merely serve as vehicles to move from fact to fact and as observers. The story begins at night, exploring where pufflings may be found outside of their natural habitat and explaining how they got there, moving on to the catching, tagging, and testing of the pufflings, and finally on to the exciting moment where Susan and Ryan get to set the baby puffins free to fly out to sea.
The art in The Puffin Patrol is not like the art in a lot of children’s books today. It doesn’t have a high level of polish, or clean lines and saturated colours, but it does have a folksy charm to it. In particular, the images of the puffins are beautifully rendered. These are the types of realistic images that are great for the very young (read: toddler) set, although that is not the age group this book is targeted to. Despite several shining moments, I do not know if the illustrations, as they stand, would be something many kids would be immediately drawn to (although I am sure some would be). There is no note on the copyright page to indicate what medium the art is done in, and while some looks like pencil crayon (or coloured pencils, to some), some light research on the author shows that she also paints, and so the images may also have been painted (or a combination of the two).
Puffin Patrol is definitely a piece of fiction, but it walks a fine and awkward line wherein it reads as though it is the type of picture book you might find catalogued with information books because of the amount of facts Baker has incorporated, or because the Puffin Patrol is a real organization. In fact, there are several ‘puffin facts’ added at the end, as well as some facts on how to be a good neighbour to puffins. The issue I take with these facts is that they are not sourced. The author does thank several organizations at the beginning of the book (including the Puffin Patrol), so these may be the sources for her information. She does not cite them directly, though, or any papers or other information sources. I understand that Puffin Patrol is primarily a work of fiction, but I believe that it is good practice to always cite sources not only to show children how things should be done but also to allow them to find more information on subjects they are interested in, if they so choose.
The Puffin Patrol does largely duplicate the work of a nonfiction title called Puffling Patrol, by Ted and Betsy Lewin. That story, too, follows two young children in their adventures with a puffin patrol organization (albeit in Iceland) and lists its information sources. Again, though, The Puffin Patrol does not call itself nonfiction. Perhaps The Puffin Patrol would make a nice companion piece to Puffling Patrol, one which gives the Canadian perspective.
Overall, I did enjoy The Puffin Patrol, and it is always nice to have Canadian books available at the library. This would be a good choice for libraries who already have enough information on puffins in their collections and would like a little more, and especially for those looking to add fiction titles about Atlantic Canada to their shelves.
Alex Matheson is a children’s librarian in Vancouver, BC.
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