We’ve had a bunch of nice books out from the library, but these three stand out from our recent haul. Though to be honest they were my favorites, not necessarily the children’s, but they were appreciated and admired.
Dare the Wind: The Record-breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud by Tracey Fern, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully.
This book was a big surprise. I’m not sure but I think I checked it out because it was in a recommended reading list for history books. It’s the story of a woman from Marblehead Massachusetts who grew up on ships and whose father taught her to sail and navigate when she was young. She grows up to marry a sea captain and to sail with him on the trade route to China. Then, with Eleanor navigating, they broke the record for speed sailing a clipper ship from New York to San Francisco Bay, sailing around the tip of South America. No wooden ship or iron windjammer ever bested her time.
I have a personal connection to this book because we used to live in Salem and I wandered around Marblehead all the time, it was practically in our backyard. It’s always exciting to find books about places you love.
I also liked that this story of a remarkable woman didn’t seem to over-emphasize the trope that women in her time didn’t usually do the things she did. Yes, it mentions that “other girls spent their days stitching samplers and sweeping floors,” and it mentions that “Most people thought her papa was a fool, teaching a girl the ways of the sea,” but somehow this off-hand way of comparing her to other girls makes her feel different without necessarily being overly concerned with a feminist narrative. It doesn’t lay it on thick like so many books about girls who study science seem to need to do, for example. I think it’s that in the book Eleanor Prentiss stands out because she loves the sea so strongly and because she’s a top-notch navigator, not because she’s fits the narrative of a woman trying to do break into a man’s world, if that makes sense.
Looking for Seabirds: Journal from an Alaskan Voyage by Sophie Webb.
I really love Sophie Webb’s beautiful blend of diary entries and illustrations. Webb is both a scientist and an artist, she tallies birds but also takes time to enjoy the sunrise. Her journals allow the reader to accompany her on a scientific mission, counting seabirds, and observing nature and teaming up with other researchers. Her water colored drawings are highly detailed and full of information but they are also colorful and eye-catching. Seascapes show birds in their natural habitats, close up detail drawings highlight beaks or plumage with attention to identifying markings. Other illustrations include pictures of the ship and of the scientists at work; pictures of scientific equipment including buoys, survival suits, and computers; maps, graphs, and charts; and pictures of other wildlife like insects and whales.
Far from Shore: Chronicles of an Open Ocean Voyage by Sophie Webb
Another beautiful Webb book, this one traces a journey into the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean, departing from San Diego and going west to Hawaii and south to Peru. Again, there are maps and graphs, pictures of fish and dolphins and whales, a still life of equipment including an iPod, a diagram of the ship and pictures of the living quarters and working areas, images of various scientific instruments. And lots of images of birds. Each entry is headed with the latitude and longitude coordinates, which are fun to track on the map. It’s a great example of what a scientific journal can look like and an interesting story about a real scientist.
All of these books would be ideal for geography study and the Webb ones would certainly work to enrich a science curriculum while Dare the Wind would work well in an American history unit about the Gold Rush.