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Seal Song

Seal Song

by Andrea Spalding, Pascal Milelli (Illustrator)
Finn loves to swim with the seals in a secret cove. He arrives at the cove one day and rescues a young seal tangled in netting. Finn wishes the seal could live on land. That night the seals sing. "No good comes from seal songs," says Finn's father. When Sheila, a mysterious girl no one has ever seen before, appears on the cannery docks, the fisher folk are uneasy.


Finn loves to swim with the seals in a secret cove. He arrives at the cove one day and rescues a young seal tangled in netting. Finn wishes the seal could live on land. That night the seals sing. "No good comes from seal songs," says Finn's father. When Sheila, a mysterious girl no one has ever seen before, appears on the cannery docks, the fisher folk are uneasy. They believe the newcomer is a magical selkie, a shape changer.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A strong sense of place, sinewy prose, and an unusual blend of workaday life and fairy tale dreaminess distinguish Spalding’s (Secret of the Dance) Pacific Northwest fantasy. Finn, the son of a salmon fisherman, befriends and rescues a seal, then wishes out loud for her to take human form. Sure enough, a solemn girl in a long dress named Sheila appears, and Finn’s family’s salmon fishing takes a turn for the better. When Finn dismisses Sheila’s warnings and ventures into a terrible storm (“You’re just scared of the sea,” he scoffs), she gives up her human form to save him. “Finn lay asleep on the shingle. Protecting him, like a velvet blanket, was the seal. A fall frost sparkled across her back.” The oil paintings by Milelli (The Art Room) are composed, mosaiclike, of planes of saturated color that mimic the play of light across the water and the faces of the fishermen. The sober reality of the tweed caps of the men on the docks and the cannery’s wooden buildings anchor the story’s magical elements in a particularly piquant way. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)
Canadian Literature
"The formal text retains the grave and romantic tone of folklore and incorporates free-verse poetry in lyrical songs that echo folkloric rhyme...The design and typography of the poems enhance the emotional cadence and parallel the movement in the underwater scenes."
"Richly illustrated with beautiful, evocative oil paintings, Seal Song is a thought provoking look at what it means to be a friend."
Canadian Children's Book News
"Spalding has intertwined traditional Celtic folklore with the west coast fishing way of life to create an enchanting story about a loyal and, ultimately, life-altering friendship. She writes beautifully, with such powerful imagery and a strong sense of place that the text could easily stand on its own...Milelli's vibrant oil paintings transport readers to the natural surroundings of a fishing community. He achieves a dramatic effect by employing blocks of colour, with emphasis on blues and greens, so supporting Spalding by creating the perfect atmosphere for her beautifully crafted text. An inspired pairing! Seal Song will captivate and entrance young imaginations."
"Richly illustrated with beautiful, evocative oil paintings, Seal Song is a thought provoking look at what it means to be a friend."
BC Bookworld
"Evocative illustrations in oil by award-winning Vancouver artist Pascal Milelli provide a moody, watery backdrop throughout the book."
The Horn Book Guide
"Dramatic oil paintings, particularly effective in their portrayal of the ocean and the selkie, illustrate the bittersweet, evocative story."
Eastern New Jersey Regional Library Cooperative
"The prose weaves gentle magic, but the illustrations command attention here. Softly hued, earthy, watery, the reader is bound to get lost in each one."
Perogies & Gyoza blog
"A delicate balance of prose and poetry that really grabs the reader...Milelli's illustrations reflect the sea and refracted light of the sun on every page. Coupled with Spalding's masterful storytelling, this art proves that picture books can be as deep and moving as any other book."
CM Magazine
"Milelli's illustrations are extraordinary. His unique artistic style, with his colour blocks and vivid palette, harkens back to the works of Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso. Milelli's approach allows the reader to bear witness to the natural world with a newfound wonder...Seal Song weaves fishing customs and traditional folklore effortlessly into one tale. Spalding adds depth...by taking a visceral approach to her storytelling. Thus, the reader gains a more intimate perspective into the characters and their experiences. Seal Song beautifully showcases that a friend can take any shape."
Southwest Ohio and Neighboring Libraries
"[This] magical story is one of friendship and devotion...The oil illustrations reel you in, as does the free-verse interspersed throughout."
Quill & Quire
"The storm scenes are skilfully rendered, and Milelli's pictures are particularly vivid."
Resource Links
"This story will help children understand how kindness and sacrifice can strengthen relationships."
Children's Literature - Beverley Fahey
Drawing on the Celtic legends of the selkies—seals that take on human form—comes this haunting original story set near a salmon cannery on the Canadian seacoast. Young Finn loves to swim among the seals and he longs for the day when one will call to him. He rescues a seal from a net and cares for the animal until it is well. When a young mysterious girl, named Sheila, appears in town Finn is convinced she is his seal. Just like the selkies of lore, she does not go near the sea for legend has it that if salt water touches a selkie it will revert to its seal form. While Sheila lives among them, the fishermen have a successful harvest of salmon but none is as great as Finn's father's haul. One day in fall, Finn decides to sail out for one more catch, heedless of Sheila's warning. When a storm arises, he hears her plaintive cry to turn back. Sheila dives deep into the sea where her call is heard by other seals that join her in a frantic race to save Finn. In the morning Finn is found washed up on the shore asleep with a seal skin protectively covering him. Sheila is never seen again. This beautiful, lyrical tale is a perfect one to introduce young readers to the lore and the magic of the selkies. Care is given to the language of the narrative and the poetry of the songs. The seal swims "riding wave crests, / exploring hidden depths, /laughing, splashing, celebrating". In the storm, "Wind hammered. /The boat heeled. /Finn staggered." Combine roughhewn oil paintings with hues of greens and blues with the lilting language and you have a magical tale of love and friendship. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
School Library Journal
Gr 2–4—Spalding has located her selkie story in the salmon fishing grounds of Canada. She tells of a boy who loves to swim with seals and rescues one from an old net. Soon after, Sheila, a stranger child, appears and befriends Finn, though she is oddly loathe to let saltwater touch her skin. After a time, Finn ventures out onto the water though Sheila warns him of a storm brewing. When he capsizes, she sacrifices her human form to save him. Milelli's oil paint illustrations do little to convey the magic Spalding tries to evoke. Angular, hard-edged swaths of color make both land- and seascapes sit heavily on the pages. The human figures pose stiffly and awkwardly, and when Finn is sitting in his skiff, supposedly buffeted by powerful winds, his hair is barely ruffled.—Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY
Kirkus Reviews

Finn, a fisherman's son, befriends a seal who becomes his selkie friend until she gives up her human life to rescue him in a storm.

Drawing on the long tradition of selkie tales, Spalding (Solomon's Tree, 2002, etc.) weaves a new story set in a Canadian community where salmon fishermen use nets. Finn works with his father, but he finds time to swim and play, and he longs to hear a seal sing. After he frees one from a net and nurses it back to health, she not only sings, she turns into a girl, Sheila, who can live on land and be his best friend—just as he had wished. All goes well until he ignores her advice and rows into a storm. Sheila sings once more and slips back into the ocean to save him, but when selkies enter saltwater, they turned back into seals. The magical elements of this friendship story seem believable in context, and the bittersweet ending is appropriate. Within the third-person narration are lyrical passages summing up important story elements. The text is set on or opposite Milelli's dark, expressive oil paintings, which focus mainly on the characters, giving only a rough idea of their surroundings.

Read aloud or alone, the storytelling and illustrations work well together, creating a memorable, satisfying whole. (Picture book. 5-9)

Product Details

Orca Book Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.60(w) x 11.20(h) x 0.30(d)
AD500L (what's this?)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Read an Excerpt

The storm threw down a curtain of rain.

    "FINN!" screamed Sheila as she lost sight of him.

    In heaving swells, Finn's boat floundered. The wind howled, freezing his hands. The rain became blinding sleet. "Which way?" he cried.

    On the beach, Sheila sang, "Eeeeiiiiii, eeeeiiiiii." A magic song. A seal song.

    The piercing notes reached Finn. He rowed toward her voice, but the wind shifted.

Meet the Author

Born in the industrial city of Manchester England, Andrea Spalding trained as a teacher. Then, with husband David, Andrea immigrated to Canada in 1967. After living in Alberta for 24 years, Andrea and David relocated to British Columbia and live on Pender Island, one of Canada’s Southern Gulf Islands. Curiosity about her chosen country compelled Andrea to listen to other Canadian immigrants who shared tales that later became her folktale book, A World of Stories. Andrea's first children's book, The Most Beautiful Kite in the World, was selected as a Canadian Children's Book Center's "Our Choice." She has garnered awards and nominations ever since. Her fantasy novels—The Summer of Magic Quartet—are avidly read by both children and adults. Her picturebook, Secret Of The Dance, is her 30th. Written with Aboriginal Elder Alfred Scow, it has gained accolades from both the aboriginal and white communities. For more information, visist www.andreaspalding.squarespace.com.

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