Images: Holling Clancy Holling, Paddle to the Sea, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston 1941.
Note: Through our seminars, we have found that fostering critical and pleasure reading in working adults frequently leads them to read with their children. In other words, encouraging life-long learning in our participants moves beyond corporate and community borders into the home. In this ongoing series we explore books that have impacted our home lives as children and as adults.
Participants tell us that one of the most magical aspects of Books@Work takes them well beyond the book – it’s the social interaction that comes from the discussion and the comparison of ideas and perspectives. For many of us, the closest experience we have to sharing the impact of a good book happens when we read to children. The wonder and awe occasioned by a particularly well-loved book leaves a lovely and lasting glow.
I’ve been reflecting lately on the books I shared with my children that have left their mark – on them and on me. One such book, Paddle to the Sea, written and illustrated by Holling Clancy Holling, comes to mind often; the veritable classic, published in 1941, remains in print to this day.
Holling’s protagonist is a foot-long Indian canoe, fashioned by a young boy in Nipigon Country, Canada, who longed to see the world, and, in particular, the ocean.
“I made you, Paddle Person, because I had a dream. A little wooden man smiled at me. He sat in a canoe on a snowbank on this hill. Now the dream has begun to come true. The Sun Spirit will look down at the snow. The snow will melt, and the water will run downhill to the river, on down to the Great Lakes, down again and on at last to the sea. You will go with the water and you will have adventures that I would like to have.”
And adventures he has! Paddle finds himself in a beaver dam and a saw mill, rocks through storms and floats past forest fires. He finds people who help him along and others who thwart his journey. But slowly – and successfully – he makes his way through the Great Lakes to Niagara Falls to the Saint Lawrence River, ending his journey in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland four years after his snow bank melted and tipped him into the Nipigon River.
Through lovely illustrations – both decorative and instructional – Holling Clancy Holling weaves a very real tale of life on the Great Lakes, complete with maps and diagrams to explain Paddle’s encounters. Recently I asked my older son about his recollections of the book. “Holling’s description of the Great Lakes as ‘bowls on a hillside,’” he explained, “shapes how I have looked at bodies of water for the rest of my life.” Paddle’s long-lasting influence on his sense of adventure reminded me of his announcement that he wanted to kayak home after his first year of college – from Minnesota to Cleveland, Ohio!
Like my older son, my younger son has a only a vague memory of the text, because the illustrations play such a vivid part in telling the story that the combination of image and text takes on a life of its own. “Early in the book, Paddle perched on a snow bank waiting for the adventure to begin,” he explained, “I see that picture so clearly it’s as if I have the book in front of me.”
Picture books like Paddle to the Sea provide rich avenues to share the pleasure of a story with a child, creating pathways for learning, exploration, discussion – and memory. I recently gave a copy of Paddle to the Sea to Capria’s son, who – inspired by the story and the adventure it represents – fashioned his own Paddle-to-the-Sea from wood and an abundance of paint. Seeing the joy in his face as he showed me his favorite pictures in the book took me back to my experience with my own children, reading it aloud for the first of many, many times.
The adventures of Holling’s wooden canoe and its ability to invite both parent and child to explore the geography, topography and life along the Great Lakes have inspired many generations of children to see beyond their own lives to the possibilities of exploration, adventure and aspiration. “Reading and seeing at the same time – it was like sharing something more than a text,” my older son reflected as we chatted about the book.
Go find a child you know and curl up with a good book. Better still – curl up with Paddle to the Sea and imagine! And please tell us your own impressions!