Book Review: A Sailor Went To Sea Sea Sea

Award winning children’s book author and champion Sarah Webb has joined Designer/Illustrator Steve McCarthy for their second collaboration… and what a treat it is.

Essentially an illustrated compilation of favourite rhymes, poems and limericks curated from an “Irish childhood”, A Sailor Went To Sea Sea Sea is a charming trip down memory lane all wrapped up in a beautiful, contemporary visual bow.

The collection ranges from well-known favourites, such as She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain and On Top of Spaghetti to loveable dual translations such as Oro, Se Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile, that nods to as gaeilge to enrich the storytelling. The tone is light and funny, with a slice of Irish history tucked in between its lines, that children will enjoy, along with learning the meaning behind the words.

It is an enjoyable push back into childhood nostalgia for adults, a great read to pull to the surface all of the rhymes that have been stored in our memories for safekeeping. It reminds us of the joys of a whimsical childhood, that we can now introduce to our own children which Sarah so greatly touches on in her heartfelt, familial introduction.

Where the collection really stands apart though is in the resplendent illustrations. They are adorable, inviting and clearly created with a humour and love for the stories these rhymes have to tell. Steve’s background in animation shines through as he creates believable and rich worlds on each spread.

They also give a much-needed modern slant to the verses with their elongated stylised characters and bold colours. The reds and oranges are as warm as a sunset and the greens and blues are as crisp as the sea. From a cross St. Patrick banishing the snakes and toads from the top of his cathedral in St. Patrick Was a Gentleman, to the vividly coloured dance party the Teddy bears are rocking out to, conjoining I’ll Tell Me Ma and Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, these illustrations act, not just as visual descriptions of the words, but rather as their perfect counterpart, adding narrative layers of their own.

This book is rich in colour and Irish culture, and fun for any age.

A Sailor Went To Sea Sea Sea by Sarah Webb & Steve McCarthy is published by O’Brien Press and available online and in all good bookshops.

Reviewer: Kristen Harvey