Children’s Book of the Week: Paddle to the Sea

Paddle to the Sea by Holling Clancy Holling

Do you remember this book? Paddle to the Sea is seared onto my memory from childhood, mostly from watching the movie version of it in the Tenafly Public Library, probably in 1977 (Kate, were you with me?). So I was greatly pleased when the boys (all of them, Dave too) were as charmed by it as I was, way back when.

It’s the story of a wooden Indian in a canoe, that a Canadian Indian boy carves by hand and puts into the water, with the words “I am Paddle to the Sea, please put me back in the water” written on the bottom. The story follows Paddle’s adventures through the Great Lakes to the Saint Lawrence River and finally to the sea. Along the way, over several years, he sees a shipwreck and a great fire, goes over Niagara Falls, and his journey is almost completely stopped by various mishaps.

The best part is the book’s format. Each chapter is one page. On the page where the text is, there are small sketches related to that particular chapter — a map, a diagram of a sawmill, a history of Lake Superior. On the facing page is a large, lush, full-color painting of Paddle on his adventure. What a perfect format to keep young kids involved in the story. And at the end there’s a detailed map showing Paddle’s looping route on his way to the sea.

This is a great bedtime chapter book: Eli got all of it, and couldn’t wait to read the next night’s chapter, and Henry was putty in Paddle’s hands because of the maps. There’s a reason this is such a classic. There’s a wonderful thread of human goodness and of being true to your word and honoring someone’s dream, plus the whole thing is a nice geography lesson.

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