About the Holiday
National Maritime Day commemorates the day in 1819 that the steamship Savannah sailed from the United States to England. This event marked the first successful crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by steam propulsion. The US Congress proclaimed May 22 National Maritime Day in 1933. The day gives us an opportunity to honor the ships and seafarers who have served our country in peacetime and during war and to remember the benefits the maritime industry.
Written by Randall de Sève | Illustrated by Loren Long
A little boy makes a toy boat from a can, a cork, a pencil and some white cloth. He loves his boat and carries it with him everywhere. Every day the boy takes his boat to the lake and sails it all afternoon. The boy always keeps his toy boat on a string so he won’t lose it. The boat feels secure, but sometimes it gazes out at the big sailboats gliding across the lake and wonders “what it would feel like to sail free.”
One afternoon a squall blows up on the lake, and the boy’s mother pulls him quickly from the edge of the thrashing water. Startled, the boy drops the string and his toy boat floats away. The boat is buffeted by the wind and rain and is carried into deep water where it rides the crests of the wind-whipped waves. As the storm subsides a tug chugs along, pushing the little boat further aside.
The tiny craft rights itself just in time to avoid being sunk by a ferry that blows its horn, warning, “Move Along!” But the tug and the ferry aren’t the only dangers on the water. A fierce speedboat roars past, its engine screaming, “Move Along!”, and its draft sending the little boat reeling. The toy boat feels small and scared as it drifts into the middle of a fleet of sailboats racing to port. For a moment the toy boat and a large sloop “cut through the choppy waves side by side. And the little toy boat felt big. Then the white boat tilted high on its side, spraying the little toy boat with water, warning, “Move along!”
Half drowned and its sail soaked, the little toy boat misses the boy. It bobs all night on the open water, “alone and scared.” As the sun rises an old fishing boat, dented and with peeling paint, put-puts by. It spies the little boat and, knowing how it feels to be pushed around, begins to circle the tiny craft. In the fishing boat’s wake, the toy boat turns and catches the wind in its sail. Soon it is sailing alongside the fishing boat.
“The little toy boat felt strong! ‘I am moving along,’ it shouted to the wind.” The little boat feels so good that it doesn’t realize it is now sailing alone or that it is nearing the shore, where the little boy is watching out for it. When the boy shouts, “Boat! Boat!” the now brave craft waves its sail excitedly and sees the boy wave back.
That night the little boat sails bathtub seas and sleeps on a soft mattress. The next day the boy takes the boat back to the lake, and while he still holds the boat by a string, every so often he lets go, and the little toy boat always comes back. “It knew just where it wanted to be.”
Randall de Sève’s tale of independence sought and found by both the little boat and the boy will resonate with both children and adults. The safety of the “string” set against the perceived freedom of older or bigger others is a universal and on-going rite of passage for every child and their parents and is treated by de Sève with gentleness and understanding. The various dangers and even personalities children meet with are introduced here allowing kids to see that while they may be buffeted by change or adversity, they will not sink.
Loren Long lends his well-known artwork to this story in beautiful two-page spreads that depict the security of first the small bathtub and then the calm lake as well as the storm-tossed waves that take the toy boat into unknown territory. The smallness of the toy boat compared with the size of the tug, ferry, speedboat, and racing sloops well reflects the experiences of children in the wider world. When the friendly face of the fishing trawler comes on the scene, kids will identify with the toy boat and realize help and support are out there and that they are always welcomed home with love.
Ages 3 and up
Philomel Books, Penguin Young Readers, 2014 (board book edition) | ISBN 978-0399167973
National Maritime Day Activity
Show Your Colors! Word Puzzle
While ships can’t talk to each other, they can communicate using a system of flags. These colorful flags carrying different designs are recognized internationally as representing letters and symbols. Individual flags have specific meanings related to safety, emergency, or warning issues or they can be combined to form a code that only certain ships can understand.