Save the Seals!

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Well, after a holiday hiatus of sorts, I think it is time for this blog to return to some animal magic and multicultural content! Firstly, if you have kids at home or in your classroom who are not only animal-crazy, but also enjoy writing stories, do have them enter one of their masterpieces in BORN FREE’s writing competition, open to children aged between 9 and 16.

Knowing of my passion for animals in danger, a good writing friend kindly passed on to me at the SCBWI summer conference, a couple of thoughtful and well-researched picture books, highlighting the plight of certain seals.

There are 33  species of seals, sea lions, furs seals and walruses (known scientifically as Pinnipeds). The following are listed as endangered by the IUCN/World Conservation Union :

Hawaiian monk seal

Mediterranean monk seal

Guadalupe fur seal

Saimaa seal

Steller’s sea lion

The most endangered seal in the world is here where I live, the Mediterranean Monk seal, whose numbers are estimated to be less than 500. The Hawaiian Monk seal is close behind, with numbers dwindling to around 1000. Sadly the Caribbean Monk seal became extinct around 50 years ago.

Mediterranean Monk Seal

All the monk seal wants is to continue living in these ancient seas for which it has evolved. Sadly those safe waters no longer exist. Pollutants, plastics and fishing lines invade the waves, and humans throng to beaches or race across the reefs. Occasionally a pregnant monk seal does pull herself up onto a beach, Ironically, tanning tourists who have lain dormant for hours,  when they see a monk seal doing the same thing, assume it is stranded or in trouble, and chase it back into the sea – risking killing both seal and its young. If you come across a seal on land or in the sea, unless obviously suffering, please give it a wide berth.

Prince William by Gloria Rand, illustrated by Ted Rand

Though a fictional account, this story is based on the aftermath of a real oil spill in Alaska in 1989. While dad’s trying to protect the salmon fisheries and mom’s trying to raise volunteers to clean the beach , Denny, contrary to he mother’s admonitions, sneaks down to the beach to see what an oil spill really looks like and discovers a barely breathing seal pup. Mom and Deny rush the pup to the makeshift rescue center, where volunteers are woring desperately to save hundreds of oil-covered birds and otters.

Prince William, as the pup is named, after the Sound, is cared for while the damage of the spillage worsens. Deer, bear, wolverines, eagles are all affected and, indeed, as are the entire local population, who are out in force to help the professionals with the clean-up. Meanwhile, under expert care, Prince William has recovered and is being prepared for release. Denny and her Mom are there the day the pup is reintroduced to the ocean and the fairwells are bittersweet.

This is a well researched story with notes at the back on how local children raised money to buy herring and blankets to help the real pups’ surival. The liiustrations are realistic, endearing and factual. Published almost twenty years ago, the book is a little text heavy for picture books of today, but will certainly retain an appeal for some children and could still be a useful classroom text about oil spills.

Seal by Judy Allen, illustrated by Tudor Humphries.

This book is also around 20 years old and consequently has 3-4 times the words of a present day picture book, but it’s tale of a little girl, a secret and a Mediterranean Monk seal had me hooked. While on holiday in Greece with her parents and elder brother, Jenny grows saturated with the well meaning facts the others keep sharing with her. Would she ever know something they didn’t know?

This desire and the family’s, and Jenny in particular’s, friendship with Stefanos, a local, young fisherman, takes them out for a fishing expedition, where Jenny is the first to spot a young, solitary monk seal.  Later in the week when Stefanos reluctantly agrees to take the family to a rocky Island, Jenny goes exploring while the rest of the family snooze and picnic. Here she discovers something the rest of the family know nothing about, the existence of a group of adult and young seals in an Island cave, well hidden from prying humans. Jenny is entranced and naturally longs to share her superior knowledge with her brother and parents. Stefanos, however, challenges her to guard her knowledge secret lest word leaks out and these endangered mammals lives are threatened by human intrusion. He barters for her not to betray the seals, offering local seal myths to share instead with her inquisitive family. The decision is hard for this young girl!

This beautiful book presents facts about the endangered Mediterranean monk seal through a winning story that will appeal especially to the youngest in the family, and through two well presented factual pages at the end of the book. This gets a thumbs up from me for great endangered species fiction.

# 76 & 77 in There’s a Book Read to Me Picture Book Challenge.

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8 Responses to Save the Seals!

  1. Diane says:

    Lovely Joanna, I love the story Seal. The Monk Seal looks a real cutie…. but I believe all seals can become dangerous if we get to near them, or cut them off from the sea. Around the South Island we have the NZ Fur seals. Here they are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

    • Joanna says:

      Diane, you are so right. Most wild mammals will show threatened behaviour if we approach to close. There are some wonderful national conservation projects happening around the world to protect seals. However, overzealous fishermen and tourists don’t always adhere to the rules! Nice to hear about the New Zealand fur seals.

  2. Great reviews, and great educational information scattered throughout (a hallmark of a Joanna review). I can certainly see why “Seal” held particular appeal for you.

    In a side note, isn’t it amazing how picture books have changed over the years, getting sparser and sparser in text? I am constantly amazed at how long the text is on each page in many older picture books. (I should have been writing back then! My wordy style would have fit right in.)

    Thank you for these reviews. I always learn so much from your posts.

    • Joanna says:

      Thanks again for thinking of me, Beth. You know what I like!

      I am also amazed at the changes in Picture Books over the past twenty years and I am loathe to abandon some of the older, lengthier texts, which often still have so much to offer to the intrigued child. I too have to curb a desire for length! I’ve read the sweet spot is 300-400 words now!!!

  3. Welcome Back Joanna! I missed your posts, and your interviews! These are nice books. And I love the reference to the writing contest for kids, would see whether I can also make mention of that in my scheduled posts in the next few days and link back to you here as well.

    I meant to ask you, did you make some headway with your supposed reading list while on vacation? Did you get much reading done? 😉

    • Joanna says:

      Hi Myra,

      I have another interview coming up at the beginning of September. 😉

      Haha, I wondered if you would ask! I visited libraries in Boston, New York and Los Angeles (and of course bookshops everywhere) and read all but one of the Picture Book (couldn’t find Kate Messner’s Sea Monster’s First Day, nor her chapter book, Marty McGuire, so will order the latter).

      I got through half the Middle Grade, especially enjoying: The Westing Game, Hoofbeats, Moon over Manifest and the Penderwicks at Point Mouette. Also just finished laughing my way through Kristin Venuti’s Leaving the Bellweathers (if you loved the a Series of Unfortunate Events, you’ll adore this)

      I was gripped by Crank and have just finished Cut. I have brought back another 7 YA to read just for pleasure and am about to start Sold by Patricia McCormick.

      The only adult one I got around to was the autobiography, Just Kids, which prompted a great café discussion in san Francisco, with someone who knew Patti Smith well back in the early 70’s in New York.

      All in all, a decent amount of books were imbibed on my travels!

  4. Patricia Tilton says:

    Even though the books are older, they both sound wonderful and still relevant. I especially like knowing the threats and any rescue attempts that are related to real-life situations. Can’t believe we want to drill for more oil off the Alaskan coast. Hasn’t history repeated itself again and again. Have already joined that campaign to stop the drilling with NRDC!

    I liked the story of Jenny and “Seal.” It combines real information/situations that challenge a child to make a big decision. Also liked Prince William. Glad to see you writing about what you love so much!


    • Joanna says:

      Pat, I do think the stories are still relevant, though I can imagine dated illustrations, especially in Prince William and length will cause many librarians to weed them out.

      Glad you have joined the campaign against more oil drilling off the Alaskan coast!

      My challenge in writing is I love so many things 🙂

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