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Review of Mister Cleghorn’s Seal

kerr_mister cleghorn's sealMister Cleghorn’s Seal
by Judith Kerr; illus. by the author
Primary/Intermediate    Harper/HarperCollins    95 pp.
6/16    978-0-00-817083-7    $14.99

Recently retired newsagent Mister Cleghorn finds himself lonely and purposeless. On a trip to the seaside, he impulsively adopts Charlie, an orphaned seal pup, intending on taking him back to the city and donating him to his local zoo. This plan results in an adventure involving a tin bathtub, a train, a flood, lots of slippery fish, a grumpy apartment janitor, a supportive downstairs neighbor, and some difficult zoo politics before Charlie finds a happy home. Over the course of the story, Mister Cleghorn discovers his own capacity for practical heroism. The structure is classically comic, from order through chaos to a new order, and it even ends with a wedding. This story is thoroughly and sweetly old-fashioned, in its reassuring narrative voice, in its olden-days setting, in its soft-edged pencil illustrations, and in its benign attitude toward the keeping of wild animals in captivity. Kerr’s afterword reveals the origins of seal Charlie through the story of her own father, who adopted a baby seal and tried to rear it—an even more dramatic tale than the one she has written, and a sadder one.

From the July/August 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Sarah Ellis

Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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