Holling C. Holling: “Paddle-to-the-Sea”

Holling C. Holling’s classic children’s book, Paddle-to-the-Sea, won the Caldecott Honor in 1942. Written and illustrated by Holling, the book follows the journey of Paddle-to-the-Sea, an Indian figurine paddling a foot-long wooden canoe.

An Indian boy in Canada’s Nipigon Country – eager to travel the world but unable to do so – carves the figure in the canoe and sets him on a snow bank so that, come spring melt, he can begin his long float to the sea. Each of the book’s 27 chapters carries Paddle-to-the-Sea farther along his journey, until finally the news reaches Nipigon and the now grown-up carver that Paddle has made it to France.

I love the way the book brings the Great Lakes region to life – from the natural world (including animals) Paddle encounters along the way to the industrial activities he sees up close (including a sawmill where he nearly meets his end). I was especially intrigued by the wonderful hand-drawn maps, each showing Paddle’s location on his journey.

Recently, Nipigon established an interactive Paddle-to-the-Sea Park, where visitors can read quotes from the book (in Ojibwe, French, and English) on “displays that include waterfalls, sawmills, beaver dams, grain elevators, lighthouses and more.” Though Holling had visited the small town, why he decided to start the book there remains an unanswered question.

Aside from the marvelous book itself, my favorite discovery is the Google Lit Trip dedicated to the book. Once you’ve downloaded the necessary software, you can follow each chapter on Google Earth – and access discussion questions, lesson plans, and related websites. This is a must for any teacher using Paddle-to-the-Sea in the classroom, but it’s great for other readers as well. Also available is the Ohio Sea Grant curriculum package, which emphasizes that Paddle-to-the-Sea is more than the content of its individual chapters – it is instead, as a whole package, a fantastic introduction to the Great Lakes ecosystem.

If you were going to carve a figure and set it on a journey, what would you carve and where would you send your creation? What worlds would you like to experience?

Join me this week on Pinterest as I pin images and resources related to Holling C. Holling. Take a look around at all my boards – or go straight to “My Favorite Books” board for Holling C. Holling treats.

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Note: This post originally appeared on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s “Connecting Children to Nature Through American Literature 1890 – Today” blog. I was delighted to be a guest blogger for this important project.

Watch:Watch a 28-minute film adaptation of Paddle-to-the-Sea. Directed by Bill Mason, the 1966 film was produced by the National Film Board of Canada.