Thursday, April 16, 2009

Reader's Diary #481- Alice Walsh (Author) and Geoff Butler (Illustrator): Heroes of Ilse aux Morts

Newfoundland has long been recognized for the happy, fun, offbeat community names: Heart's Delight, Come By Chance, and of course Dildo, all come to mind. Ilse aux Morts, translated as "Island of the Dead," breaks that merry tradition. Located on the southwestern shore, the small outport community has been the locale of more than its share of shipwrecks and tragedy.

Doesn't exactly sound like the happiest of tales for a children's picture book, does it? But, where's there's tragedy, there's also the chance for heroism. Enter George Harvey, his 17 year old daughter Ann, and their Newfoundland dog Hairy Man, who rescued sailors from The Despatch and The Rankin. Now we have a story worthy of a children's book (not to mention a chamber opera, a Tragically hip song, a Kevin Major poem, and probably more). Alice Walsh loosely bases "The Heroes of Isle aux Mort" on the Despatch rescue.

Walsh does a fantastic job of capturing the excitement of that night, pacing the story just right. She also presents authentic dialogue and personalities. Complimenting her text are the impressionistic oil paintings of Geoff Butler whose dark and ominous colours set the scene perfectly. I read one reviewer state that his paintings were reminiscent of 19th century paintings, which would make sense for the time setting of the book. Still, there was something else about the cover that seemed familiar. Then I remembered the Winslow Homer painting "Lost on the Grand Banks" that hit the news when Bill Gates purchased it for over $30 000 000. What do you think? Did Butler use it for inspiration?


Wanda said...

This book was a hit in my home when we borrowed it from the library — gorgeous illustrations!

If you haven't already it, another favourite that you and your little ones may enjoy is 'Hold on McGinty!' by Nancy Harty.

Wanda said...

Obviously my head is faster than my fingers! That should have been
...already read it...