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October 18, 2012

Our Best Book of the Library Haul: The Green Ship by Quentin Blake

We haven’t had a best book from the library haul in ages, not because the book are no good but because they generally all are, and because life is whirling along at a frenzied pace here so that library books are not what our days hinge about as they once did. But then we picked up Quentin Blake’s The Green Ship from a display at the library about sea and boat books. What a strange, mysterious, magical book about a brother and sister on holiday with an aunt who scramble over a wall to find themselves in a secret garden that is more like a jungle. And in the centre of the garden, they discover a ship except it is not a ship. It’s a strange fixture designed to look like a ship, built from pruned trees, and two tall trees which function as masts. A kind of garden shed is near the front, and inside the brother and sister discover a ship’s wheel, and then they’re discovered themselves.

They discovered by an older woman and the man she calls Bosun (“boatswain”, and actually he resembles a gardener). Stowaways, the boy and girl are made to scrub the deck, which is really to sweep away leaves, and then they all take tea and have madeira cake. The man and woman are all too happy to have the boy and girl join their crew, and so for the rest of the children’s holiday, they  all partake in the ship life together.

I love this book for the same reason I love most of my favourite children’s books: because there is another story going on beneath the surface but we’re not privy to its details. In this video, Blake suggests that the old woman had lost her husband at sea, that he’s the “captain” she references, and that the green ship is a memorial to him. The story is viewed through the children’s eyes only who never stop and wonder at the circumstances around this wondrous thing they’ve found, and I actually like that the woman’s story is left untold. I like that it might not occur to children to wonder why grown-ups do any of the inexplicable things they do.

I loved the story’s climax, when the green ship is taken by a storm and it is though the ship is really a ship at sea as the rain pounds and the wind blows, and the old woman steers the ship and remembers what the Captain would have advised her: “Steer into the eye of the storm”. I have no idea if that’s really good advice, but it’s a line I love, and I imagine that it’s applicable somewhere.

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