Jonathon and the Big Blue Boat by Philip C. Stead

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Even after reading Jonathon and the Big Blue Boat by Philip C. Stead (Roaring Brook Press, 2011) multiple times, I’m still undecided about what I think of the story. The fabulous illustrations, a mix of acrylics and collages (particularly stamps, maps, and patterns from around the world), make this a fantastic book to pour over and examine the pictures.

In the story, young Jonathan’s parents have determined he is too old for his stuffed animal, his best friend Frederick, and they have traded the bear for a toaster. Distraught, Jonathan slips off onto the Big Blue Boat, searching for his teddy bear. With repetitive phrases (“And that’s how Jonathan, a mountain goat, a circus elephant, and a …. came to sail on the sea on a Big Blue Boat”) that build as Jonathan’s adventure continues, the story is a pleasant read-aloud.

The ending, however, left me wondering and unsatisfied, for Jonathan’s adventure certainly is not over; there is no full circle return to his parents or an understanding of what will happen next. And, as a parent to a young child, I am not sure I want my son worrying that I’m going to trade away his precious imaginary friend or comfort object.

I suspect, though, that Mr. Stead’s point in this book goes beyond the story as we see it. He is suggesting that growing up is not a cut-and-dried “move on,” but is a never-ending adventure. Jonathan’s story is the story of leaving childhood behind, all the while that growing child grasps hold of the imagination and adventure of childhood and hopes life will work out well in the end.

Reviewed on December 6, 2011

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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