Tag Archives: Robert McCloskey

Where do hummingbirds go in a hurricane?

"...making a promise..."

Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings was one of my daughter’s early favorite books.  Soon, my friend Maryellen recommended some of McCloskey’s other books, Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in Maine.  The Sal stories are fun, jaunty, and touching.   Sal loses a wobbly tooth while grubbing for clams with her father on the beach, feeling  for it with her muddy finger, the mud bitter in her mouth.  The stories ebb and flow with the tide as they follow Sal and her family on their bucolic adventures on the Maine coast.  (And I love how these stories depict strong, outgoing, capable girls, unafraid to roll up their pants and get dirty, carry heavy stuff, play with discarded spark plugs, and generally frolic freely through childhood.)

Then I found Time of Wonder  which continues the saga of Sal and Jane, but this time in a very different type of narrative.  My daughter just rediscovered the book, and so reading at “bed night” thrills me more than it usually does.

The book reads like a poem in places, and interestingly, rather than continuing to name Sal and Jane as the protagonists, Time of Wonder is written in second person, so it’s directed at “you.”  With beautiful illustrations of the seasons of coastal life, spring ferns uncurl and fade to make room for summer boats.  As the summer folks leave the island, there follows the uncertain skies, the time for being watchful.  The climax of the book is the hurricane, and the hypnotic rhythm of preparation builds with the repetition of characters’ lines:

“We’re going to have some weather./It’s a-coming!/She’s gonna blow./With the next shift of the tide.”

After the storm slows, the picture shows Sal and Jane creeping upstairs to bed.  The text on that page reads:

“The moon comes out,
making a rainbow in the salt spray,
a promise
that the storm will soon be over.
Now the wind is lessening,
singing loud chords in the treetops.
Lessening,
it hums as you go up to bed.”
The whole book is a joy to read.  McCloskey’s other books are, too, except I stumble with One Morning In Maine because it could use some editing, and has clunky dialogue tags, which cause me to cringe a little when I read it with my writer’s ear.  (And reading that book aloud is a reminder that reading aloud is crucial in catching clunkiness.) But I love reading Time of Wonder.  Maybe because of the catharsis of Storm (which is part of the natural rhythm of life there; even children know the rituals of preparation, one last trip to the island for groceries and gasoline).   Or maybe it’s simply the poetry.
Even if you’re not reading it to a child, read it.  You might like it.