The Serpent Came to Gloucester

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Drawing on a true story, an award-winning author and illustrator present a picture-book tribute to the beauty and mystery of the ocean, and to the mesmerizing creatures that may frolic there.

It came from the sea, from the lonely sea,
It came from the glittering sea.

In a small Massachusetts fishing village in August of 1817, dozens of citizens claimed to have seen an enormous sea serpent swimming off the ...

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Drawing on a true story, an award-winning author and illustrator present a picture-book tribute to the beauty and mystery of the ocean, and to the mesmerizing creatures that may frolic there.

It came from the sea, from the lonely sea,
It came from the glittering sea.

In a small Massachusetts fishing village in August of 1817, dozens of citizens claimed to have seen an enormous sea serpent swimming off the coast. Terrified at first, the people of Gloucester eventually became quite accustomed to their new neighbor. Adventure seekers came from miles around to study the serpent and aggressively hunt it down, but the creature eluded capture. The Gloucester sea serpent was then, and remains now, a complete mystery.

Reviving the rhythms and tone of a traditional sea chanty, M.T. Anderson recounts this exhilarating sea adventure through the eyes of a little boy who secretly hopes for the serpent's survival. The author's captivating verse is paired with Bagram Ibatoulline's luminous paintings, created in the spirit of nineteenth-century New England maritime artists.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Anderson (Handel, Who Knew What He Liked) casts as a kind of sea chantey this reportedly true tale of a 19th-century sea serpent, spied by the people of Gloucester, Mass. "It was on a day when the sun was bright/ When the limpets were thick on the rocks," begins an unnamed boy's first-person narrative. The child spies the monster while hanging out the wash. Glass-green waves reveal a gargantuan, sinewy sea snake. "My mother drew breath and looked paler than death./ I dropped all my socks in a heap." The villagers quail, but the boy reassures them: " `Is it back in the deep?' `Is it eating our sheep?'/ `I think,' I said, `that the serpent is playing.' " The serpent, which cavorts offshore for weeks, becomes a tourist attraction. But the next summer's encore performance draws a lynch mob: "They came with their peg legs and knives/ They vowed they would drown or would stab or would stifle/ The beast, if it cost them their lives." The boy follows nervously, silently rooting for the sea serpent, and cheers the curious turn of events. Verses full of chuckles and gasps alternate with occasional stumbles (e.g., "sulked" rhymed with "caulked"). Ibatoulline's (The Animal Hedge) period gouaches, by contrast, sail straight and true; white spray, billowing waves, muted winter light all seem to shimmer with depth and feeling. Ages 6-10. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-Rhyming text recounts the early-19th-century sighting of a large, mysterious sea serpent off the coast of Gloucester, MA. In keeping with the historical record, Anderson tells how the whole fishing village repeatedly viewed the creature until it disappeared with the onset of winter; the following summer, thinking they had sighted it far out on the sea, men set out to kill it, only to discover in the end that they had caught a huge mackerel. The narrator would seem to be a boy who runs through the streets announcing the arrival of the strange visitor. Ultimately, readers learn that an old man is recounting this boyhood ex perience for his grandchild. Formal, highly detailed paintings done in acrylic gouache are somber in tone and fill single or double pages. The shiny serpent is more a curiosity than a monstrous threat. Both verse and pictures create a vivid sense of long ago and far away. Yet, the story is a bit flat and somewhat confusing after the dead mackerel scene when the boy and some fishermen row out and view two creatures at play. Was this a dream or a bit of fantasy? All other references, including the author's concluding note on the history of this and other New England sea-serpent sightings, speak of just a single creature. The poetry reads well, and the story is a somewhat nostalgic recollection rather than a dramatic encounter. An evocative introduction to poetic narrative, local legends, or an exploration of a tantalizing subject.-Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
To commemorate well-documented old sightings of huge sea serpents gamboling off the New England coast, Ibatoulline paints richly detailed scenes of wide seas and narrow shores, of small boats, monstrous writhing coils and astonished onlookers-to which Anderson pairs an old man's reminiscence in verse: "The serpent was twirling, just chasing its tail, / And showed all intention of staying. / 'Is it back in the deep?' 'Is it eating our sheep?' / 'I think,' I said, 'that the serpent is playing.' " Young monster lovers will share the wonder of this never-solved mystery, and applaud when a company of sea-hunter's strenuous efforts to kill the monster yield only a large mackerel. A 19th-century tale presented in grand, 19th-century style. (afterword) (Picture book. 7-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763620387
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 5/10/2005
  • Pages: 40
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.36 (w) x 12.12 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

M.T. Anderson is the author of the celebrated picture book biography HANDEL, WHO KNEW WHAT HE LIKED, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. He is also the author of several young adult novels, most recently FEED, a National Book Award Finalist and winner of the LOS ANGELES TIMES Book Prize. Considering the existence of sea serpents, he says, "For generations, fishermen in places as distant as New England and Norway took for granted the existence of long snakelike animals in the North Atlantic. It takes a peculiar kind of snobbery to believe that men who worked on the sea all their lives — though illiterate — were by nature superstitious, confused, and gullible. Unlike those people who have seen Bigfoot. Whew, what a bunch of lunatics!" M.T. Anderson currently serves on the faculty at Vermont College's MFA Program in Writing for Children.

Bagram Ibatoulline was born in Russia, graduated from the State Academic Institute of Arts in Moscow, and has worked in the fields of fine arts, graphic arts, mural design, and textile design. He is the illustrator of several children's picture books, including CROSSING by Philip Booth, named an American Library Association Notable Children's Book, THE ANIMAL HEDGE by Paul Fleischman, a PUBLISHERS WEEKLY Best Children's Book of the Year, and, most recently, HANA IN THE TIME OF THE TULIPS Deborah Noyes.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2005


    It has been documented that in August of 1817 the residents of Gloucester, a small Massachusetts fishing village, saw a rather frightening sight - a gigantic sea serpent swimming off the coast. Evidently, these reports caused a bit of a stir as a number of people came to study this sea creature and others came in hopes of capturing it. All to no avail As told by M. T. Anderson in captivating rhyme this is the story of that serpent and of how the people in the village gradually almost became accustomed to their startling new neighbor. He begins with: 'It was on a day when the sun was bright, When the limpets were thick on the rocks, When the seagulls would squawk And would talk and would fight For the fish laid to dry on the docks.' Thus, Anderson is a bit of a Scherazade as he escorts readers through first the initial sighting by a young boy, next to the townspeople watching the serpent play in the water, and then to the men coming with weapons, singing 'killing songs.' According to historical records, a Captain Rich came the closest by claiming to have harpooedn the creature but the serpent shook off the harpoon and swam away. Bagram Iratoulline's illustrations are lovely, luminous, evoking the scenes of 19th century New England and the mysterious beauty of the ocean.

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