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Jack and Mary in the Land of Thieves

by Andy Jones; Darka Erdelji, illus.

Saltwater Joys

by Wayne Chaulk; Dawn Baker, illus.

If you hang out with Newfoundlanders for any length of time, you’re bound to be regaled with stories and songs. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that these two books by Newfoundland authors contain both stories and songs – complete with sheet music.

Saltwater Joys is an illustrated version of the famous tune by Wayne Chaulk of the band Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers, recorded in 1990 and brought to life through Dawn Baker’s lovely illustrations. The lyrics move from one coastal vista to the next. We see these scenes through the eyes of a young boy whose daily routine is rooted in Newfoundland tradition. Several generations of family and friends work together to make a life in this beautiful land, and the boy is clearly an important part of their activities.

Baker’s vivid paintings capture the deep blues and reds of sea and sunset, recalling the brightly painted buildings of island communities. The song’s wide appeal and familiarity guarantee a ready market for this book, although a link to a recorded version would have been helpful for those who don’t know it and don’t read music.

Jack and Mary in the Land of Thieves tells a much longer, more complicated story than Saltwater Joys. Its opening of – “Once upon a time, a long time ago, when birds built nests in old men’s whiskers” – suggests a tall tale to come, and the book does not disappoint.        

Jack and Mary run off and are wed in the Land of Thieves  where they prosper – Mary as a baker and Jack as a fisherman. But when the nasty villain Mauvaise Cuddihey tricks Jack out of their money (which they have kept safe through a clever system devised by Mary that depends on the couple’s albino mynah bird, Baxter), Jack is sold into slavery. Alone, penniless, and angry that Jack’s bragging about her has cost them everything, Mary cuts off her hair, dresses as a sailor, and heads off to sea, eventually becoming captain of her own schooner. In this role, she buys Jack out of slavery, and engineers a clever revenge on Cuddihey. Mary reveals her true identity to Jack, and in the end they have “a whole yaffle of youngsters” whom Jack and Baxter care for while Mary continues sailing the seven seas.

Andy Jones skilfully captures the rhythms of oral storytelling: his text is enlivened by alliterative runs and colourful dialect words. The Land of Thieves (Newfoundland) is described as “lousy with robbers, rowdies, thieves, preachers, bullyboys, hooligans, scofflaws, skullies, skeets, and sleeveens.”

Darka Erdelji’s whimsical illustrations perfectly reflect the imaginative energy of the story, adding movement and clues about the characters on almost every page, with both small sketches and full-page spreads. Some details – such as Baxter sailing from one page to the next on a paper airplane – are not mentioned in the text but act as a unifying force. These add visual interest to keep young readers engaged with a story that is unusually long for a picture book.

With lively tales, engaging illustrations, and a dash of sprightly music, both of these books honour the grand tradition of Newfoundland storytelling.