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“Toy Boat” sets sail to the imagination

You may want to have supplies (cork, pencil, and cloth) available for your child to make their own boat after reading this book. – Anisa

Reviewed by Anika Denise

A boat is a wonderful literary device. It can serve as a backdrop for a great adventure, a symbol of an important journey or transformation–even a metaphor for the soul.

Plus, boats are just cool.

They have personalities as wide and varied as the people who captain them. It’s no wonder, then, that they appear prominently in children’s books, often serving as central characters in stories.

“Toy Boat,” written by Randall de Seve and illustrated by Loren Long, is one of my favorites.

Here, a boat plays metaphor to a boy’s first pangs of fear and longing for independence. It’s a toy boat, handmade by the boy from “a can, a cork, a yellow pencil, and some white cloth.”

The boy and his boat are inseparable, until, on a stormy day, the boy loses hold of the string and the toy boat is carried out into the wide lake. After encountering fierce waves and the giant rolling wakes of a grumpy ferry, a sassy schooner and a shark-shaped speedboat, the tiny toy boat finds itself frightened and forced to face the night alone.

DeSeve’s simple text seems to hit just the right tone for this quiet coming of age tale, and Long’s deeply saturated acrylic paintings fill out the pared down language perfectly. Long (“The Little Engine That Could”) imbues the boats with distinct personalities and effectively communicates the toy boat’s vulnerability in the shadow of the larger looming vessels with sharp angled perspectives.

At last, in the light of day, a friendly little fishing boat helps guide the toy boat back to shore, making for a happy ending and a reassuring adventure for young readers.

Anika Denise is the author of “Pigs Love Potatoes” and the forthcoming “Bella And Stella Come Home.”  She lives in Barrington, RI with her husband, Christopher — a children’s book illustrator — and their two daughters, ages 8 and 5.  Anika is also the host of Thursday morning story hours at Barrington Books.  You can read more of her children’s book reviews and story hour suggestions at www.bookmarks-ri.blogspot.com and at www.anikadenise.blogspot.com.  For information on her books, visit www.anikadenise.com.

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