The Red Canoe
The Red Canoe
The Red Canoe

The Red Canoe

Anne Yvonne Gilbert (Author & Illustrator)

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As an abandoned canoe reminisces about bygone adventures with its beloved boy, are the best days behind it—or is there a glimmer of new life just ahead?

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Reviews

Classical illustrations with muted colors, involving details, and fine lines complement this nostalgic historical tale set in a lonely boathouse that’s been encroached upon by time and nature. There, a dilapidated boat remembers the boy who once loved to take him out on the lake, searching for adventures. Celebrations of the natural world weave through this haunting story of an incalculable loss—and about the healing power of the long-delayed return of summer fun.

Foreword Reviews, March 2022

Reviews

Inside an old boathouse lies a rotting canoe, home to mice and raccoons. The scene shifts back in time to a young boy waiting anxiously for a delivery. A horse-drawn wagon finally appears and unloads a red canoe. This gentle, nostalgic story is told from the point of view of the canoe, describing long summer days on the lake as the boy explores. While children may be surprised that the canoe’s perspective is represented, this technique serves to unify the text and demonstrate the passage of time. Illustrations show the boy and his dog growing older, venturing farther, until one day the boy, now a young man, puts on a uniform and leaves for war. The canoe hopes for his return, but it is left in the boathouse and eventually abandoned. Softly detailed artwork captures the canoe’s heyday and its long wait amongst various forgotten pieces of family life. Many years later, a new boy appears. He helps repair the canoe and then eagerly puts it into the water. At long last, it is summer again. 

Booklist, 03/15/2022

Classical illustrations with muted colors, involving details, and fine lines complement this nostalgic historical tale set in a lonely boathouse that’s been encroached upon by time and nature. There, a dilapidated boat remembers the boy who once loved to take him out on the lake, searching for adventures. Celebrations of the natural world weave through this haunting story of an incalculable loss—and about the healing power of the long-delayed return of summer fun.

–Michelle Anne Schingler, Foreword Reviews (Starred Review), 03/01/2022

Letting unloved possessions go...means that we increase the chances that they will find owners who really want them. Something of that bittersweet cycle plays out in the wistful pages of “The Red Canoe,” written and illustrated by Anne Yvonne Gilbert. This picture book for 4- to 8-year-olds begins at a ramshackle lakeside boathouse in the winter: “Wrapped in stiff canvas like an ancient mummy lay the old red canoe, its fragile ribs grown brittle with age, its once bright paint faded, forgotten.” Nibbled by mice, a home to raccoons, the canoe can yet remember happier days. As the pages turn, we go back in time to the day a horse-drawn wagon delivers the canoe to a young boy. Summer after summer, the growing boy explores the lake in the canoe before carefully stowing it away again. “It should have gone on forever,” we read, “but one year, news from abroad left the boy restless.” We see the boy, now a young man, in the uniform of a World War I Doughboy as he says goodbye to his mother. Years pass. The canoe molders. And then—the boathouse door opens, “creaking loudly on its rusty hinges,” bringing a new era, a new boy and a second chance for the old red canoe. 

–Meghan Cox Gurdon, Wall Street Journal, 03/18/2022

A red canoe recalls the many adventures it had with a boy with blond hair and large eyes, who grew up and went away, and only from the pictures will adults know that this boy soldier fought and likely died in the first World War. Still, the summer days they spent together sustain the old canoe, who is home to wildlife, and shelter for others, and ages in the old red boathouse until it is discovered anew and restored to the waters by another child, with brown skin and a determined look. The book lingers for pages over the first owner, and then the lost years, but devotes a mere page turn or two to the red canoe’s next life. This is abrupt, yet it’s enough of a signal, whether this is used in units on time, death, recycling, seasons, or loss. It gives readers hope that the story is not over, even if they are not there to ­witness it. Gilbert’s art has the charm of an old and well-loved barn, with an affectionate patina covering each scene, and sunlight dappled across forest glades. VERDICT A reminiscence worth sharing, for leisurely read-alouds, and a book that already feels like a keepsake.

–Kimberly Olson Fakih, School Library Journal, 04/01/2022

Wrapped like a mummy in an old boathouse, and currently home to a family of raccoons, a red canoe remembers the life it once had with a boy it loved. As the boy and his puppy grew into young adulthood, they all explored lakes and waterways and observed their ever-expanding wild world together. Each winter, the red canoe would wait for the boy’s return in summer. That is, until the year that war broke out, and the boy went off to do his part. The canoe slept and waited through many winters, its paint fading and ribs nibbled on by mice, until one day the boathouse doors open and a new boy brings the canoe out into the sunshine. Featuring heartfelt text and beautifully rendered illustrations, this picture book evokes a sense of an idyllic, bygone era. With a strong focus on the possibility for renewal, ultimately this is a story that may appeal strongest to adults. The painstakingly detailed artwork is stunning, using rich earth tones and fine sepia cross-hatching to achieve a vintage quality. Suffused with nostalgia and a reverence for nature, the artwork will draw children in more thoroughly than the very quiet story.

–Jan Aldrich Solow, School Library Connection, 05/01/2022

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