21st August 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Quite simply, it deserves to be a classic

The Grumpy Old Sailor, Meilo So and Janice Armstrong. So & Co Books, £9.99.

The best of children’s books have a strong sense of place while also maintaining a universal appeal – The Grumpy Old Sailor by Meilo So and Janice Armstrong scores on both points. The story has a strong Shetland flavour and it touches between the generations. This book deserves to be a Shetland classic.

Meilo So has lived in Shetland for the past seven years and is a well established illustrator with an international reputation. Her award winning work for major American publishers has appeared in over 20 books for children and has been adapted and translated for a much wider readership. Her newest book is a worthy addition to an impressive list and provides further evidence that Meilo has fully assimilated the influences of her new home.

The collaboration between So and Janice, who has provided the narrative, tells the story of a crusty old salt who moves into an old croft house where he has to con­tend with the unwelcome attention of four local children and their curious cat. The old sailor’s attempts to build a boat are initially frustrated by the youngsters, but the exuberant and joyful images signal a happy, if poignant, ending!

The writing style combines prose and poetry with interspersed rhyming couplets and this complements the pictures nicely. Since Meilo had over all control of the production the final result is a very professionally finished book which does full justice to the lavish illustrations: the inserted “spy glass” on the front cover is a nice touch.

The narrative should be easily read by children over eight years and younger children will be able to determine the seasons and story by studying the illustrations. Some of the pictures depict the sailor’s travels – and maybe Meilo’s own globetrotting past? – and young readers could have an enjoyable game identifying curios with their country of origin.

The local references will intrigue adults as well as children, as they try to locate a particular beach or workshop, although the series of model fishing boats sitting on a dyke is a bit of a giveaway.

At one stage the children in the book burst into a chorus of What Shall We Do With A Grumpy Sailor? and the answer is easy, buy the book! And join the reviewer who intends to invest in copies for his many grandchildren.

Mike McDonnell