Geography in Motion: Holling C. Holling's "Paddle-to--the-Sea" by Moderator Dr. Linda Tate

I’ll close out my stint as guest blogger with a consideration of Holling C. Holling’s 1941 classic Paddle-to-the-Sea, which won the Caldecott Honor in 1942. I am a bit embarrassed to report that this is the first time I’ve read this wonderful book – but it certainly won’t be the last (and I expect that my nephew will be making its acquaintance on his seventh birthday this summer – shhh…don’t tell!).

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 snowbank 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 loved 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 saw mill 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 from this week’s exploration 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?

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