A West Coast Summer
A West Coast Summer
To the sea, to the sea,
who or what waits here for me?
We might reach Big Rocks Beach
and leave our footprints there.
But if Buddy rocks the boat, we must stay afloat
no matter when he wants to jump—or where!
A West Coast Summer brings together a collection of fine art images from watercolourist, Carol Evans, who lives on Salt Spring Island, BC, and rhyming text by author Caroline Woodward, who writes and works as a lighthouse keeper on Lennard Island, BC. The bright, vibrant book jacket (different from the more subdued book cover) immediately invites the reader in. The book begins with the refrain, “To the sea, to the sea, who or what waits here for me?” which periodically repeats throughout the book, thus setting up an expectation of a sea-themed focus.
Of course, a summer on British Columbia’s west coast encompasses more than just the sea, and the book includes paintings of forest, meadow, a totem pole, a First Nations child drumming at a pole raising ceremony, and even an image in the back matter depicting toddlers bathing in a wash basin on a sunlit deck with flowers. Notably, the book includes images of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. But because the text sets up an expectation about the sea, the relationship between text and image is not always harmonious.
As well, since the images, many of which were previously published in Evans’ two fine art books from the 1990s (and therefore date the non-Indigenous children’s clothing style), were not created specifically for A West Coast Summer, the book sometimes feels inconsistent as a children’s book. One double page spread in particular, which is filled with a wooden dock structure (the backsides of the adult and child with fishing gear are mostly hidden) may hold less interest for children who might be more inspired to see the faces of the characters or actual fish being caught. At times, it also feels like the rhyming text has been forced, such as in one particular spread that describes exploring a bog and lifting a log when the images show children collecting flowers in a meadow (albeit by some kind of water body as shown by their reflections) or gazing at a stream along a forest path.
To be clear, the realistic images, which often look like photographs, showcase Evans’ exquisite talent especially in capturing light in her subject matter. And author Caroline Woodward also draws upon and shares her love and experiences of coastal living. However, I would have liked to have seen more attention paid to how the chosen images and text need to work together consistently to create a more cohesive end result.
Nevertheless, A West Coast Summer generally evokes a traditional, warm, and appropriate mood of summer inclusive of friendship, fishing, exploration, and family ties. It also shows the autonomy of children. The text’s light repetition will likely appeal to younger children. As the illustrations are filled with fine detail, this book would be best enjoyed close-up such as when shared during family reading time or by children reading on their own for pleasure. This book could also be a popular souvenir gift book.
Anita Miettunen, a writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia, is completing a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia.