Saturday, September 16, 2017

Book Review: 'The Nantucket Sea Monster' by Darcy Pattison

Darcy Pattison is an Arkansas children's book author and writing teacher. In 1999, she created the Novel Revision Retreat, which she now teaches across the nation. As a children's book author her books have been translated into nine languages, and have been recognized for excellence by starred reviews, Book of the Year awards, state award lists and more. She is the 2007 recipient of the Arkansas Governor's Arts Award for Individual Artist for her work in children's literature as well as multiple NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book awards. Her novels include stories of troubled families, fantasy worlds, and aliens shipwrecked on Earth – and now she adds topical themes that are puzzling the populace in this zany tear of 2017 – themes such as ‘fake news.’

Darcy appears to have a degree of one-ups-manship on us as she offer some background influences for this writing – ‘My father was a Japanese prisoner-of-war during World War II, and I was raised to vote. When my kids starting voting opposite my convictions, I cheered for them because they were expressing heart-felt opinions. That's what we want for our kids: the ability to think deeply about issues, to make up their minds and act upon their beliefs. Part of that is teaching kids what to do with fake news. Because it's not going anywhere. You want your kids to love America and to be good citizens. That means they need to learn about fake news. And we've got a great way to do that.

Having read Darcy’s shorter books (about dogs and cats) coning to this more involved book brought a sense of curiosity: could she make a serious story for young minds work? The answer is clearly ‘YES’. The quality of prose, the exacting reportage, and the concept of sharing ‘fake news’ sings in this fine book illustrated by Peter Willis. Combining commentary (storyline) with newspaper commentary works exceedingly well to underline the subject of Fake News: ‘Early in August 1937, a news flash came: a sea monster had been spotted lurking off the shore of Nantucket Island. Historically, the Massachusetts island had served as port for whaling ships. Eyewitnesses swore this wasn’t a whale, but some new, fearsome creature. As eyewitness account piled up, newspaper stories of the sea monster spread quickly. Across the nation, people shivered in fear. Then, footprints were found on a Nantucket beach. Photographs were sent to prominent biologists for their opinion. Discussion swirled about raising a hunting party. On August 18, news spread across the island: the sea monster had been captured. Islanders ran to the beach and couldn’t believe their eyes. Tony Sarg, the man who invented the Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloons, had a holiday house and a small shop there. As a puppeteer, he saw the balloons as upside down marionettes. In 1937, he designed a sea monster balloon for the parade. And they decided to publicize the event with a fake sighting of a monster. And that is the fake news!’

Truth is stranger than fiction – and Darcy takes us on a timely topic trip that proves just that! Excellent book on every level. Grady Harp, September 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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