When I was a little girl our family holiday comprised of a week's B&B in a small coastal village in North Wales. It was usually in early June as I recall. We spent a lot of our time on the beach - not one typical for a summer holiday, being incredibly rocky. I remember constructing shelters from the wind and sometimes rain from the stones. If we found a patch of newly-revealed sand it was a cause for some celebration! Thinking back, I think this was instrumental in developing my love of nature and, in particular, exploration of rock pools. We sometimes collected shellfish to cook back at the house - the lady we stayed with was more of a friend than a landlady. So quite early in life I was very familiar with limpets and the like. I was keen to read this one to the children at Preschool.
===The Author and Illustrator===
Simon James: perhaps not one of the better known names in children's fiction. I was interested to read about him on the Walkers Books website. He's a British author, brought up in Bristol and Exeter. As a child he enjoyed making and illustrating his own little books, perhaps influenced by the many books by cartoonists owned by his father. He wanted to be a cartoonist, and went to college to study graphic design and art history. He published his first book in 1989, called 'The Day Jake Vacuumed'. There were other books in the 'Jake' series apparently, though I don't recall having come across them. I think I have seen 'Dear Greenpeace'. Some of 'things you didn't know about Simon James' is quite amusing - for instance, he trained to be a policeman but was asked to leave the force when he was discovered to have drawn penguins in his police notebook! He sounds like fun to be around, with quite a deep interest in nature and ecology. I think the 'Baby Brains' series is his latest offering.
It won't surprise you, then, that the illustrations are cartoon-like in style. I'm no expert on art, but I would say they are probably pen and ink outlines coloured by watercolours in pastel shades. Simon James uses a restricted palette to effect. The blues, greens and yellows/oranges of the beach predominate - even on pages not set on the beach. Sally wears the same pink top with lilac patterned shorts, I think, throughout. There are various skin tones, of course. Red is really the only other colour used, and that mainly for the clothing of other characters. It's simple but very effective, and busy without being over-stimulating. I particularly enjoy the frames where Sally is sitting in the sea or a pool; it captures that experience so well.
Simon James says that the story originated from an incident on Wenbury beach. He was walking with his friend Sally when they encountered a little girl who was trying to pull a limpet off the rocks - a pretty impossible task! Sally apparently found one lying on the sand and gave it to the child. As she did, the limpet made a strange squelching sound. The child was startled and dropped it.
In the story, the child is called Sally. She's exploring on the beach when she notices a limpet that's more brightly-coloured and bigger than usual. As I would have at that age, she wants to take it home & tries to pull it off, but of course it just hangs on more tightly, making a funny noise. Suddenly Sally slips and falls back, only to discover that the limpet is now firmly stuck to her finger. She can't get it off. Her dad tries to help, but every time they try to pull it off the limpet hangs on more tightly, making a funny squelching sound. They go home with it on. Dad tries using his tools & her brother suggests lettuce and cucumber - maybe thinking of Giant African Land Snails? No joy. Next day, at school, the nature teacher tells her that limpets live for twenty years and live their lives on the same rock. The anxiety level rises! Mum takes her to the hospital where, after being subjected to some uncomfortable treatments, Sally has a bit of a paddy and takes matters into her own hands. It would probably spoil things if I told you how the problem is resolved, although you can most likely guess which way it goes.
I think this is a book to be enjoyed for its story and the discussions that can be had from it. It's not written in rhyme, doesn't use a lot of alliteration or assonance, and doesn't really introduce a lot of 'new' vocabulary. What it does, very successfully in my opinion, is identify with children's interests and experiences, such as playing on the beach, collecting rock pool specimens, going to school, going to the doctor and so on. Although it's about a girl, when I've used it with children the boys have really enjoyed it.
As an adult, I have a question in my mind about the accuracy of limpets living to be 20 years old on the same rock - it reads rather as though the age range is up to 20. I find it a bit unlikely that Sally would really succeed in pulling one off a rock, even accidentally, but I think I'm taking it too seriously and a writer has to be allowed a degree of license to make a good story. In either a group setting, which is my context, or a family one, it would be a good starting point for discussions along the lines of 'is that true? What do we know about limpets/rock pools etc? Is it a good thing to take a creature out of its home environment? It's a book that could be used to take on holiday, or to support a study theme on life on the beach. It's a great book to promote learning about environmental issues and our responsibilities. The only disadvantages I can see are that ideally it needs to be supported by experience of rock pools and limpets - something that's not easy to provide on our Lincolnshire coastline, though of course children may well have experienced other beaches on holiday, as I did. Also I think a child needs a reasonable level of language and reasoning development to get the best from it. It's lost on our two year olds. Some of the three year olds like it as a story, but it's the fours and upwards who are most likely to be able to appreciate the moral of the story and its implications. Those are generalisations, though, and I do think children often benefit from reading a story on a one-to-one basis, or as close to that as possible, so a parent and child/ren reading it together is ideal for a book like this. For that reason it's a four star rating from me. If it appeals to you I do recommend you look at the website links.
Published by Walker Books in 1991
Amazon price = £4.49 [paperback]
Thank you for reading this review. It is a revised version of one posted on Ciao in May 2013.
© Verbena January 2014