Friday, July 29, 2011


I just finished reading to my son Ben one of the favorite books of my own boyhood, Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling Clancy Holling. An Indian boy in central Canada carves a little wooden canoe and scratches on the bottom, "Please Put Me Back in Water, I am Paddle to the Sea." Then he puts it in the snow near a little stream in the forest and waits for the spring melt to carry it away. The story follows the canoe as it journeys across the Great Lakes and down the St. Lawrence River to the sea. Paddle rides rapids, floats with currents, is blown by the wind, and is picked up and helped along by several people along the way.

It was from this book that I learned most of what I knew in my youth about the Great Lakes and Canada. It is full of maps that trace Paddle's route in loving detail. It describes different bodies of water, from tiny streams to beaver ponds to Lake Superior, along with the things that live in them.

It has many diagrams that explain canal locks, sawmills, how ore freighters were loaded, and much else about human life around the lakes.

My only hesitation about the book now is that it was written in 1941, and some of the world it describes is no more: glowing steel no longer lights up the nights around Gary, Indiana, fishermen no longer cast nets for whitefish from sailboats, and the harbor of Superior is no longer red with iron ore. But the lakes are still there, and the canals, and they are still plied by boats carrying grain, tourists, and other things.

For children who love to look at maps and dream about the world, there are few better books, and for grownups who love to look at maps and dream there are few better books to share with their children.

No comments: