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Paddle to the Sea

Page history last edited by Eleanor Rose 7 years, 3 months ago Saved with comment



Plot Summary 


      Paddle to the Sea is a historical fictional book describing the travels of a wooden carved Indian.  Since all the events in the story could realistically have happened in the historical American waterways. For instance, the figure getting caught in a sawmill on its journey is an entirely plausible occurrence for the time.


     The story begins with a young Native Canadian boy working tirelessly to carve a small wooden Indian in a canoe. He works hard to design the small canoe so that it will stay afloat and right side up in water.  He carves “Please put me back in water, I am Paddle-To-The-Sea” into the bottom.


After learning about the water cycle in school, the boy wanted to send his carved figure to travel to the sea through the water system. The path was to be the river then into the great lakes then into another river and finally into the sea. The figure’s journey, however, was not quite so peaceful.

     Paddle-to-the-Sea faced many different trials throughout his journey. First was the excitement of sliding down the hill toward the river, then came fear and anxiety as Paddle-to-the-Sea was mixed in with the logs headed toward a sawmill. The figure got scraped and bashed about in this jostle, but it was saved by a riverman who put him back into the river. Paddle then meets Lake Superior, and spends months drifting toward the sea. Next the figured passed through the border between Canada and the United States and got caught in a marsh. He was then freed and drifted to the other side of Lake Superior where he was picked up by a fishing boat, and dropped back into the water. On his journey he met many people animals, and he witnessed a shipwreck. In this instance, Paddle was picked up by the Coast Guard, fixed then sent to the Sault via dogsled. Paddle was directed off course into Lake Michigan by a “clumsy deck-hand”  who dropped him into the water. The figure saw a forest fire then traveled through Lake Huron. He was passed along through the hands of a young girl into Lake Erie, then down a waterfall into Lake Ontario,  and into the St Lawrence River. Finally, after years of travelling, Paddle reached the sea.  


The book has also been made into a motion picture. I personally don't think that the movie does the book justice in the slightest, but here is a link so you can judge for yourself.



Textual Elements



     The setting is one of the main plot driving forces in this story. The change in setting is the entire focus of the plot! Throughout the story, the main character, Paddle-to-the-sea, is exposed to different settings all along the  coast of Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas then all the area between Canada and the U.S.A as he traveled toward the sea. Through this exposure, we are able to gather a great deal of information about each different setting. For example, we learn that fishing is a source of food and income in the Apostle Islands with “Now he had reached the Apostle Islands, one of the best fishing regions of Lake Superior”


Here is a map of the water route that Paddle-to-the-Sea took.



     This story is unique in the fact that the main character is an inanimate object. The only way this is able to work so well is that the figure, Paddle-to-the-sea, is personified through both the boy who created him and our own emotions. The boy helps personify the figure by talking to him and treating him like a living thing, thus inviting the reader to consider him in the same way. An example of this is at the beginning of the story, “The time has come for you to sit on this snowbank and wait for the Sun Spirit to set you free. Then you will be a real Paddle Person, a real Paddle-to-the-Sea.”  With this, the character is telling us that Paddle will become “real” and that we should relate to him as such.  


Artistic Elements 

                All of the illustrations in the book are representational art—they portray literal, realistic depictions of the story. Most of the pictures are painted using watercolors, though some of the pictures are black & white. Most of the illustrations are intended to add information to the text, and the colors convey mood. For example, the mechanics of a breeches buoy are shown in an illustration from chapter 15. The ‘dark’ mood of chapter 14 is well portrayed by the colors of the full-bleed illustration.  The images are very realistic, portraying the subjects as accurately as possible. This lends to the realistic atmosphere of the story as a whole. The style of art makes the trials and threats that Paddle endures all the more realistic. This captures the readers’ attention, and encourages them to invest their interest in the character .


Take these images as an example of this style.







Analysis and Critique 

     The story’s genre is realistic historical fiction, although the story’s central theme of how water flows from the Great Lakes into the Atlantic Ocean is contemporary relevant. It allows readers to think about how water flows, develop an understanding of large-scale water flow, and offers additional information about the environment of the Midwestern/Eastern waterways.

The depiction of the “Indian boy” and Paddle could be considered racist, both in the text and illustrations, as it subtly reinforces Native American stereotypes. The main character himself, being an Indian in a canoe, suggests a primitive mode of transportation. The message that the boy carves on the bottom of the canoe might make a reader believe he is poor at English. The small cabin that the boy lives in could suggest poverty. His reference to the “Sun Spirit” could suggest factual ignorance.





     Paddle to the Sea, by Holling Clancy Holling,  is a very informative piece of historical realistic fiction.  Through this book, the author takes his audience through the water system and through historical American through unlikely eyes.  The main character gives the whole story a different perspective that would have been impossible with a live character. This character allows the reader to implant his or her own emotions and feelings into Paddle-to-the-Sea and fully invest themselves into the story.


     First, the figure is personified through the boy that created him. The boy talks to the figure as though he is living, explaining things to him and expressing hope for its future. This is readily apparent as he says, “Yyou will go with the water and you will have adventures that I would like to have.” The boy is obviously transferring his hopes and dreams to the figure so that the figure may go out and have excitement where the boy cannot. This shows the reader that we too should give the figure emotions and human characteristics.


     Holling then uses language to inspire us to give the figure our own emotions. He uses descriptors that don’t explicitly tell us how the figure is feeling, but it forces us to relate to how we would feel in that situation. Take for instance the scene where paddle meets the sawmill, “The spikes dug into Paddle’s log. The great tree rolled over, bringing Paddle upright and dripping out of the water into the sunlight.” Here, words like “spikes” and “dripping” connect to the readers’ experiences with these things so that, without saying that Paddle would be scared, we can place that emotion on him.


     These emotions provide a way for the reader to connect to the figure and experience the same things that he does through the story. That connection is what helps readers to invest themselves into the story, making them read on to find out what happens.




Holling, Clancy Holling. Paddle-to-the-Sea. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1969.








Plot Summary

      Paddle-to-the-Sea was written and illustrated by Holling Clancy Holling. It was first published in 1941 then renewed in 1969. Paddle-to-the-Sea is an Historical Fiction picture book. This is true because in the story, the characters an “Indian boy” carves a miniature Indian in a canoe, who is named “Paddle”, and lets him free to float throughout the Great Lakes. This is an event that could have actually happened. The setting starts in the Great Lakes and ends in the Atlantic Ocean. The time of this adventure would be approximately 1940’s. The plot would be the journey that Paddle takes throughout the Great Lakes. The point of view is in third person. The theme is that the audience takes a ride through the Great Lakes and its geographical and historical setting.


Textual Elements


Artistic Elements 

     The style of art used in Paddle-to-the-Sea is naïve art. This is true because the illustrations ignore traditional styles of art. The mead used is water color and pencil. On the left hand side of the pages, all of the pictures that surround the text are made with a simple lead pencil. The right hand sides of the pages are done in vibrant water colors. The illustrations are so in depth that book is a proud winner of a Caldecott Honor award.


Analysis and Critique

    There are some controversies within Paddle-to-the-Sea. For instance the author gives the Indian’s a language and tone throughout the book that seems to be very stereotypical and comes off very racist. Also the “Indian boy” isn’t given a name. It seems to me that the author is trying to give off a sense that all Indians are the same.

     In short, I thought the book is a great educational tool for teachers who are planning on teaching history or geography of the Great Lakes.




Picture Book Citation

Last Name, First Name. Book Title. Illus. Illustrator First and Last Name. City of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication.

One Author (No Illustrator)

Last Name, First Name. Book Title. City of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication.


Two or More Authors: 1)  List the names in the order they appear on the title page. 2) Only the first author's name should be reversed: Last Name, First Name. 3) Use a comma between the           authors' names. Place a period after the last author's name.

Last Name, First Name and 2nd Author First Name Last Name. Book Title. City of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication.



Will need to look up format for the type of source used.





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