Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sail Away Home: The Toy Boat by Randall de Seve

A little boy had a toy boat. He made it from a can, a cork, a yellow pencil and some white cloth.

The boy loved the boat and they were never apart.

In this allegorical tale of a beloved toy, a toy boat longs to set forth free in the lake where its owner sails it at the end of a tightly held string. When a sudden tug of his mother's impatient hand forces the boy to drop the string, however, the toy boat is blown out into the frighteningly enormous expanse of water which soon surrounds it. As it drifts further from shore, a series of larger anthropomorphic boats--a tugboat, giant ferry, speedboat, and several sailboats--almost crush it with their huge hulls or swamp it in their wakes. Intimidated by their indifferent and angry faces, the toy boat drifts fearfully under a sad-faced moon, afraid that it will never find the way back to its home with the boy.

At last a friendly fishing boat spots the toy boat and begins to circle carefully until the little craft turns with the wind, and as the tiny sail catches the breeze, it begins to move steadily back the way it has come. Only then does the toy boat realize the hoped-for joy of skimming across the water under its own power. Soon the boy is seen on the shore, calling "Boat, boat!" and the two are at last reunited in the shallows.

That night they bathed together and slept together, and the next day they went down to the lake together. But the little toy boat always came back. It knew just where it wanted to be.

Randal de Seve's Toy Boat uses the metaphor of the toy boat to recount the familiar prodigal story in which the child, here represented by the boat, longs for freedom until confronted by the very real dangers as well as the pleasures of such liberty. With good fortune the little one returns home with hard-earned wisdom and a new appreciation for a safe haven.

De Seve's simple language is deepened by the almost surrealistic illustrations of Loren Long. While one reviewer found the features of the big boats possibly frightening to small children, the majority view it as an appealing tale which will resonate with those children who share with de Seve's toy boat a curiosity about--and fear of--the great unknown.



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