Thursday, February 5, 2009

Review of The Sea is Calling Me by Lee Bennett Hopkins

The Sea is Calling Me, by Lee Bennet Hopkins is a compilation of twenty-one poems about the sea and its surroundings. Harcourt Brace Javanovich in San Diego, California published the anthology. Walter Gaffney-Kessell penned the two-color illustrations of light blue and soft black on a pallet of cream. Each poem’s subject is an observance through the eyes of children and young adults while spending time near the sea. Topics include the ocean, the seashore, lighthouses, seashells, and sandcastles.

The poems speak to our shared notions of biomes of seas and oceans. The poets’ voices convey familiar encounters felt by all who have witnessed the pull of the ocean surroundings. They achieve this phenomenon through imagery with such expressions as “the sound of the thunder when they break against rocks” (Fisher, p. 14), “Sea-weed sways and sways and swirls” (Lawrence, p.15), and “There’s that smell of the boats. / Sometimes you have to hold your nose / To keep it out, that smell;” (Livingston, p. 26).

The first poem, “Sea Shore Shanty”, by Bobbi Katz, sets the mood with this repeating line at the end of each of the three stanzas - “And nothing you really have to do” (Katz, p. 6). Spending time at the seashore conjures up languid and leisurely moments soaking up the atmosphere of ocean breezes, sand between the toes, birds calling, waves crashing, and magical creatures. This charming book of poems gives us all of that and is perfect for children of any age. Although the colorful cover features two elementary-aged children playing on the beach, the illustration for the first poem shows a young teen-aged boy, barefooted, hair blowing back, lounging in roll-up jeans on the railings of a porch as he pensively stares out over the beach. The muted blue highlights in the pencil drawings of the illustrations add a whimsical and appealing touch to each poem for all ages.

The second poem, "Until I Saw the Sea,” by Lilian Moore moves with a contemplative tone about the sea itself, expressing new discoveries about the sea in a line in each of the three stanzas: “I did not know,” “I never knew,” and “Nor did I know before” (Moore, p. 8). In contrast to this purposeful questioning in “Until I Saw the Sea,” is the following poem that advances jauntily in a finger-snapping, singsong fashion, “Sitting in the Sand,” (Kuskin, p. 9).

Alliteration and repetition thrive in these poems. My favorite is a tongue twister of names: “maggie and milly and molly and may” (cummings, p. 12). Found In “Song for a Surf-Rider,” by Sarah Van Alstyne Allen, is a wonderful extended metaphor that compares a horse to the sea (Allen, p.16).

Song for a Surf-Rider
by Sarah Van Alstyne Allen

I ride the horse that is the sea.
His mane of foam flows wild and free.
His eyes flash with an emerald fire.
His mighty heart will never tire.
His hoofbeats echo on the sand.
He quivers as I raise my hand.
We race together, the sea and I,
Under the watching summer sky
To where the magic islands lie.

It reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s poem, “I like to see it lap the miles” where she compares a horse to a train. Accompanying “Song for a Surf-Rider” is the illustration of a young surfer mastering a blue-tinted wave, the look on his face one of deadpan determination. In addition to attention-grabbing metaphors is the abundance of personification. It is not hard to imagine children being delighted by waves somersaulting, seashells whispering, and fiddler crabs playing sweet tunes.

What stands out in this collection of poems about the sea is the manner in which the mood weaves in and out, as each poem is presented. One poem is pensive, the next cheerful and brisk, and the next humorous and lighthearted. The last poem is ideal for the closing of a day at the beach, when all are sufficiently burnt by wind, salt-water and sand, the perfect ending to a perfect day. “Sunset Blues” is not light and happy, but fitting, a plaintive regret for the day’s end. “Guess they think / every sunset sky / is the world’s last day / and it makes them cry” (Kumin, p. 30). Regardless of this last note, I think the mixture of these poems would make a child who has never been to the beach want to go!

Hopkins, Lee Bennett and Walter Gaffney-Kessell, illus. 1986. The sea is calling me. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace

Jovanovich. 6-9, 12-16, 26, 30.

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