Lynne Cox (author), Brian Floca (illus.), Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas, Random House USA, 15 May 2014, 48pp, $39.99 hbk, ISBN: 9780375858888
Back in the 1970s an unusual visitor came to the Avon River in Christchurch: a wild elephant seal. It took up residence, occasionally caused chaos and was much beloved by the public. The author of this book recalls visiting Christchurch and coming across some children looking for the elephant seal called Elizabeth. After many years, it inspired this picture book.
Indeed, wildlife in urban areas is an international issue with coyotes in Chicago, red foxes in London and bears in urban spaces in Nevada. Here is an ideal inquiry topic for children: why do some wild animals like living in urban spaces? Perhaps animals too like to be the centre of attention, and this seems to be the argument of this picture book. Despite attempts to remove it, Elizabeth the elephant seal asserts its authority and agency and comes back, time and time again. Young Michael, who looked for the seal every day on his way to school seems to have a particular relationship with the seal (knowing never to get too close to her because it was a wild animal after all) and it would seem that his attention was reciprocated.
The pictures certainly are nostalgic, reminding readers of past times (though I would have expected to see bell-bottom jeans!). Certainly I would want to explore the depths of the Avon if I was to go on a punter boat (post-earthquake they too have returned).
reviewed by John McKenzie