Katherine Shelley Orr
Author & Illustrator
Spotlight On: My Grandpa and the Sea
Carolrhoda Books, 1990
32 pages paperback, 9×8.5″
Lila, the narrator of this warm story, tells of her Grandpa, who “had never been to school, but he was very wise. He could read the sea and the sky like most of us read books.” Grandpa lives on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia and, for years, has fished from his small wooden boat, Fancy Lady. But when a new generation of fishermen using larger, more sophisticated boats begin robbing the sea of fish, the disheartened old man is forced to find another way of earning his livelihood. The discovery of a new business—seamoss farming—enables him to continue to work on the sea, the one place that makes him happy. Using gentle, poetic language and rich imagery, Lila shares with readers the many important “things about the heart” that Grandpa has taught her. Orr is a talented artist and an accomplished writer. Perfectly synchronized with the poignant text, her primitive, brilliantly hued pictures depict the many moods of the sea and the tropics. Ages 5-9. —Editorial Review from Publisher’s Weekly
National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Notable Children’s Book in the Language Arts
New York Public Library (NYPL) Children’s Books: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
“A charming account, illustrated with stylized, decorative paintings that beautifully evoke the luminous colors of the Caribbean and the joy of this unusual friendship.”
“A lovely book, and a gentle lesson on the interrelationship between people and animals.”
—School Library Journal
“Colorful and gently humorous illustrations, a clear and concise text, and an important but subtly conveyed message about human-animal interactions make this both an entertaining story and a useful tool to stimulate discussion about the intelligence and resourcefulness of the dolphin and the importance of understanding, patience, trust, and respect whenever humans deal with animals.”
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
In the 1980s I was involved in a conch research project that took me to the island of St. Lucia. While living in St. Lucia, I got to know a marine biologist from England, Kaff Smith, who was researching ways to cultivate a nutritious, edible seaweed, locally called “seamoss.” Through the St. Lucia fisheries department, Kaff was helping local fishermen turn seamoss farming into sustainable home businesses. His work was a great contribution to the fisheries in St. Lucia and the island community. I felt this was good book material, but the storyline didn’t arrive in my mind until a small encounter sparked my passion.
After a long day of scuba diving, my partner and I were tired and hungry. We came ashore to eat supper at a local bar. It was still early, and the small bar was empty except for the bartender and one old man. The old man sipped beer as he and the bartender spoke together. I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation.
“You’re getting on in years, and the sea can be a dangerous place for an old man like you,” the bartender advised. “You need to settle down and find yourself a wife who will cook you hot meals.”
The old fisherman replied, “You know me. I’ve never been much of a lady’s man. Besides, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself on land. The sea is my home. On the sea I can feel my place in the world within the sunset and the dawn.”
His words struck my heart. I grabbed my pen and scribbled them down on a paper napkin along with a few notes. My leading man had arrived, bringing with him a sense of his story.
Before working in St. Lucia I had lived in the Caicos Islands for six years, so I was familiar with island lifestyle and community. This background provided the flavoring. I allowed these ingredients to blend and bake for awhile in the oven of my imagination. One evening I felt ready to write the first draft. Then I rewrote and rewrote.