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Sea Crow

by Shannon Stewart, Liz Milkau, illus.

Vancouver writer Shannon Stewart’s new picture book shows the unique way one girl confronts her fears. After Jessica’s family moves to a new house, she and her little brother spend the first night talking about their fears. His are many and specific, but Jessica is unable to name hers. Entranced by the driftwood and other treasures on the nearby beach, Jessica, her brother, and her new school chum spend the afternoon making a human shape garbed in seaweed with clamshells for eyes: the Sea Crow. “If you tell her what frightens you,” says Jessica, “She’ll make you feel better.” Finally Jessica is able to confide her fears: new homes, new schools, and new people. The Sea Crow rattles and tinkles in the wind. The next morning is hot and sunny and Jessica decides to wear shorts to school and walk with Alicia. For the first time, Jessica’s shorts reveal her artificial leg to Alicia (and to readers), but there’s nothing artificial about her new confidence or Alicia’s simple acceptance of her friend.

The gentle pace and compassionate interaction between Jessica and her family make this an approachable story whose most potent message is the healing power of nature. The calming influence of the beach is what empowers Jessica to voice her insecurities, and once she has shared them with the Sea Crow, she realizes she had nothing to fear but fear itself. Stewart’s sensitive portrayal of a girl with a physical disability is effective because readers come to care for Jessica long before they realize she has an artificial leg, which in the end makes little difference. We are left with the image of a girl who discovers her own strength.

Ontario illustrator Liz Milkau’s soft watercolours are expressive and animated, capturing both domesticity and the natural beauty of a West Coast beach. The book’s design is pleasing, with mostly full-page illustrations and small anecdotal illustrations in the margins. Sea Crow can be seen as either bibliotherapy or simply a story of the joy and magic children glean from their physical environment. Either way, readers won’t be disappointed.