Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Edmund Fitzgerald

No, we're not Lightfooting around here -- we are going to talk about the book The Edmund Fitzgerald: The Song Of The Bell, by Kathy-Jo Wargin and illustrated by Gisjbert Van Frankenhuyzen.

First, a little backstory: I've always liked the Gordon Lightfoot song, and when I saw this book at Zandbroz, I had to point it out to my wife. She scoffed at it's insignificance...but then an Amazon box arrived at our door, addressed to me, with a gift inside: this book. Thanks, wifey, for thinking of me!

Today is the 30th anniversary of the sinking, as you may have heard all over the radio: it seems everyone remembers the wreck, despite it's relatively minor influence on history. New laws didn't happen because of it, nobody famous died, no treasure was lost, there was no spectactular explosion. The ship, formerly the largest freighter on the Great Lakes, suddenly sank, killing the crew.

Wargin's books is a children's book, but can easily be appreciated by an adult...for one, it's the story of the tragic deaths of brave sailors caught in a storm. The Perfect Storm wasn't rated G, so how could you come up with a picture book?

Wargin and Van Frankenhuyzen did a wonderful job: poetic in it's tragic story, the book tells far more than you can get just from Lightfoot's lyrics. In simple form, the book outlines the Fitzgerald's origins, and all the known information about the ship's fatal voyage.

Van Frankenhuyzen's paintings accompany the text artfully. The words are a small part of each visual, explaining the event in the fewest possible words, while the rest is expressed in the illustration. The images grow darker and more sinister as the boat makes its way across the lake, ending with a simple drawing of the ship's bell, now interned in a maritime museum honoring the lost crew.

While the book may not be the best for all children, especially those who really don't understand the scope of the story, those around 10 or 11 might have heard of the ship and appreciate being able to read & see the story in a non-encyclopedical format. I enjoyed reading it myself, so parents will find it pleasant to read to their children, while inviting discussion or further explanation after the story is done.


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