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post written by Emma Filbrun

Title: Paddle-to-the-Sea
Author: Holling Clancy Holling
Major Themes: Great Lakes, Saint Lawrence Seaway, Shipping, Boats, Canada, Geography, Picture Books, North America
Synopsis: A tiny, hand-carved canoe makes the long voyage from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean in this story lavishly illustrated with full-color paintings.

I have always enjoyed Holling Clancy Holling’s books. He has a delightful way of teaching about history and geography through telling the story of one object. In Paddle-to-the-Sea, this object is a little wooden canoe who travels through the Great Lakes. This book is extra-special to me because I grew up in Michigan, which is surrounded by the Lakes, and a number of the places pictured in it are familiar to me.

Paddle was carved by an Indian boy who lived just north of Lake Superior, one winter. In the spring, the boy placed Paddle on the snow on top of a hill, and when the snow started melting, Paddle slide down the hill into a little pond. This was only the beginning of an epic voyage. Currents and winds took Paddle around Lake Superior, and then a boat took him through Lake Michigan. Currents and winds again took him the length of Lake Michigan, and he traveled through each of the other Great Lakes in turn.

Along the way, people would pick Paddle up and read the message scratched into the copper plate on his underside. They would add their location and care for the tiny canoe, making sure it reached its destination—the open sea. We enjoyed reading a page of Paddle-to-the-Sea each morning, and following the trip all the way along the Saint Lawrence Seaway. The author has done a great job of describing each of the five Lakes and the highlights along the way, and making it into a fun story! His colorful paintings added greatly to our enjoyment of the book, and frequently, after I read a page, my 4- and 7-year-olds would take the book and study the pictures.

WARNING: Chapter 7 includes the exclamation “By Jo,” and chapter 17 mentions someone making the air blue with his speech.

Age Levels:

Read Aloud—Ages 3 – 4, 5 – 8
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12


Links to buy Paddle-to-the-Sea:

Amazon: Paperback | Hardcover | Audible Audiobook (unabridged) | Audio CD (unabridged)

AbeBooks: View Choices on

Book Depository: Paperback | Hardcover


Great Lakes, Saint Lawrence Seaway, Shipping, Boats, Canada, Geography, Picture Books, North America

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