The Young Man and the Sea
by Rodman Philbrick
192 pages of resourceful problem solving and skill (abilities I admire and wish I had!)
This year I have a group of students who love nature and everything about being outside. They are interested in tracking and birding, fishing and falconry. They have a great deal of knowledge and expertise. These things are an exciting and important part of their lives. I began to look for books that might compliment their interests. Because of that search I was reminded of this book. When it was published years ago, I was working with 6 year olds and I didn’t get entered on my “to read list” – but I loved Freak the Mighty so it stuck in my mind. This year I wondered how 9 year olds would like it – only maybe. There are social situations that will be better understood by an older reader. If you’re in 5th or 6th grade and think this is an interesting topic, I’m sure it’s for you. Other middle grade readers could like it too. I did and I like how Rodman Philbrick moderenized an old tale. I also like how he looked at social class and and get you to question, “What makes a “classy” person?”
Living in a coastal fishing town, twelve-year old Skiff Beaman is struggling to survive. Ever since his mother died, Skiff’s father has done nothing but lie on the “TV couch” and drink beer. He used to make his living fishing, but he hasn’t stepped foot onto his boat since his wife’s death. Skiff realizes that it is going to be totally up to him to earn money if they are to survive.
Arriving home at the end of the school day, at the end of the school year, Skiff discovers the Mary Rose, their boat, has sunk at the dock. Skiff decides that if he can raise and fix the boat he might be able to raise his dad off the couch and bring him back to life and back into Skiff’s life. He takes it upon himself to raise the boat and with the help of ancient boat-builder, Mr. Woodwell and supportive, retired Captain Keelson figures out what has to be done each step along the way to repair the boat and rebuild the engine.
Skiff is determined. He needs his dad back. His work is cut out for him if he is to get the Mary Rose back on the water – back fishing and lobstering and earning a living for them. Not only must Skiff raise the sunken boat and earn money for the supplies to repair the boat, but he must also deal with the hostility of the rich brat Tyler Croft. Skiff works hard and is determination to succeed. After numerous set backs, Skiff decides the only way he will be able to accomplish his goal is to set out to sea in his plywood skiff (one of the last great things his dad had done when he made the boat for his birthday three years ago) to try to harpoon the bluefin tuna.
The second half of the book strongly parallels to Hemingway’s classic, The Old Man and the Sea. Read and enjoy.