“The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat…” Ogden Nash
My husband and I have been rather fixated on boats lately; we’ve spent the past several weeks shopping for what is very likely our last step up, to a 30-foot sailboat. It’s not big as sailboats go, but it’s big to us.
Since we met more than 30 years ago, we’ve spent much of our time on or near the water, first in a homebuilt kayak he brought into the relationship, then a series of other small boats. About 14 years ago, he asked if he was being hasty by investing in a “real” sailboat. Hasty? You’ve got to be kidding. Just get the darned thing! He did. We’ve been enjoying real sailboats since.
There is something about the water. I grew up in arid central Oregon wandering the banks of rivers that became trickles in some places in summer. We lived six hours from the coast. When I was a middle grader, my family moved East, and I had my first view of an ocean.
It’s been a love affair ever since, between me and the water. When I met my husband, that love affair extended to boats.
It’s about more than transportation, as Ratty and Mole demonstrate in The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. “Messing about in boats” is a lifestyle that for us includes wandering the docks of any coastal town we visit, from Greece to Monterey to Halifax. It also includes binoculars for spotting sea birds (and whales!), water shoes for tide-pooling, and every wildlife and plant guide we can carry.
Pacific Intertidal Life: A Guide to the Organisms of Rocky Reefs and Tidepools of the Pacific Coast, by Ron Russo and Pam Olhausen fits in a pocket. We also carry laminated sea bird and saltwater fish guides, the better to explore the many layers of the ecosystem around us.
And we read books about boats, about people who use the water as livelihood, about people who weather storms and find courage in facing the unknown.
My Dad introduced me to the allure of the sea-going story when I was 9 or 10 by sharing some of his childhood favorites, like Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling.
Over the years, I’ve found others as well, like Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, a swashbuckling story of murder and the integrity of a young girl.
The Wanderer, by Sharon Creech, told through the travel logs of two young sailors, stuck with me a long time.
Boston Jane: An Adventure, the first in Jennifer Holm’s “Boston Jane” series, has the main character, refined young Jane Peck, traveling aboard ship from Philadelphia to a new life in the Northwest.
Our own Rosanne Parry’s Turn of the Tide delivers the excitement and magical allure of sailing as well as the dangers of ignoring the power of our environment. I was really taken with another water-related story line in this contemporary novel, and that was learning more about the Columbia River bar pilots who navigate this unique waterway in the United States. These professionals are trained specifically to navigate the Columbia’s treacherous bars and tricky currents.
Touch Blue, by Cynthia Lord, is an obvious choice, set as it is on an island. This gentle and heartwarming book is filled with the essence of what I love most about the water, and the special attachment one can form for living a life near it.
For older middle grade readers (or grownups), Clare Vanderpool’s Printz-Award winning Navigating Early is a beautiful read for just the right kid, and those who love archaic language and history might also enjoy Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World, a favorite among sailors everywhere.
My Mixed Up Files friends shared many other titles with me, and goodness, how my own TBR list has grown! Here are some they mentioned:
Windcatcher, by Avi
Beyond the Bright Sea, by Lauren Wolk
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, by Gary D. Schmidt
Flutter, by Erin Moulton
Heart of a Samurai and The Bamboo Sword, by Margi Preus
I’ve got one on hold and the rest in my library wish list now.
Do you have a favorite book about sailing, boats, or the sea? I’d love to add even more to my list.