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Volume VIII Number 4 . . . . October 19, 2001
Stories of Newfoundland dogs saving people from drowning hold great appeal to children and adults alike. This dramatic rescue tale, loosely based on the actual rescue of the passengers of the Despatch off the Isle aux Morts coast, is one such satisfying story. Young Anne Harvey is the first to hear the ship's distress call and, with her younger brother, father and Hairy Man, their Newfoundland dog, she struggles to row out to the ship. As the high waves prevent them from getting close enough, they decide to try sending the dog instead. He valiantly swims through the churning sea to the ship where they tie a rope around his middle and send him back. With the rope, they are able to create a lifeline by attaching a buoy and pulley so that the passengers can make their way, one by one, over the rough waves to shore. The passengers then remain on the island until help arrives a week later. News of the incredible rescue results in a generous reward and special commendation medal for the Harvey family.
Newfoundlander Geoff Butler, now living in Nova Scotia, is more than qualified to illustrate this dramatic tale. His impressionist seascapes of huge swells and angry white waves recreate the dangerous plight of both the shipwrecked and the rescuers. The full-colour paintings are offset on opposite pages by large black and white sketches of various images (a killick, a candle, a ship's bell, etc.) that are related to the story. Unfortunately, Butler is not adept in portraying the human figures, as their facial features seem distorted and vaguely disturbing. This criticism aside, children and dog lovers will marvel at this amazing story and will appreciate the powerful paintings of the stormy seas.
Alison Mews is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Centre in the Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NF.
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