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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas. Written by Lynne Cox and illustrated by Brian Floca. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Early one morning, when the grass was still wet, Elizabeth hauled herself up, up, up to the top of the riverbank...and stretched out across the two-lane road. Maybe she liked the feel of the warm firmness under her belly, or maybe it was the sunshine fanning out across her back. But whatever it was, she decided to stay."

You may think that elephant seals live in oceans, return to their established colonies, live on the beach during mating season, and eat skates, rays, squid, octopus, small sharks, large fish, and eels. For the most part, you would be right. You have not yet met Elizabeth...and I'm here to change that.

If you haven't read Lynne Cox's story of this particular elephant seal, you are missing a warm and tender tale of  Michael and the people in Christchurch in New Zealand, whose encounters with Elizabeth were related to the author while on a visit there. At the time, she knew she would someday want to share the story.

Elizabeth did not choose to live in the wild ocean waters and on sandy beaches; instead, she chose the warm, slow waters of the Avon River which passes right through Christchurch. She loved the grass, the welcoming slurp of the muddy banks, and even the warm roadside. The people loved her, and recognized that she was very special:

"She was strong and powerful and regal - like Elizabeth, the Queen of England. And so they named her Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas."

Michael, in particular, loves Elizabeth and looks for her every day on his way home from school. He calls to her, always hoping she will hear him. When her adventurous spirit leads her to sunbathe on a two-lane busy road near the riverbank, concerned citizens make the decision to take her back where she belongs. Twice they try. Both times Elizabeth comes right home to where her heart is! Another solution to the problem of the seal's safety must be found.

Brian Floca infuses his pen-and-ink and watercolor artwork with all the warmth and gentleness that the tale evokes for readers. The Christchurch setting is beautifully rendered; you can understand why Elizabeth would make it her 'chosen' home. He shares his own memorable connections to the vast ocean, the passing days and nights, the concern of the Christchurch population for the seal's safety, and of the yearning felt by a young boy who only wants Elizabeth to be home and happy.

An archival picture of Elizabeth can be found in back matter alongside 'some facts about southern elephant seals'. 

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