PPBF – The Old Boat

With a heat wave raising temperatures across much of North America, I think it’s time to head to the water this holiday weekend. So grab an oar or sail and enjoy this week’s Perfect Picture Book!

Title: The Old Boat

Written & Illustrated By: Jarrett Pumphrey & Jerome Pumphrey

Publisher/Date: Norton Young Readers, an imprint of WW Norton and Company/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes/Topics: boats, nature, intergenerational, fishing, pollution, aging, ecology, home


Off a small island, an old boat rode the tide.

Brief Synopsis:  

A young boy and an adult journey in an old boat, viewing both the wonders of the sea and the growing problem of ocean pollution. As the boy becomes an adult, he ventures further, is shipwrecked on a new island, and cleans up the trash on the shore and in the waters.

Links to Resources:

  • Take a ride in a boat – either in the sea or on a river or lake;
  • Have you visited the beach? What did you see? What did you do? Draw a picture of a day you’ve enjoyed at the beach;
  • The Pumphrey brothers used stamps constructed from recycled plastic to illustrate The Old Boat. Try these printmaking ideas;
  • Help clean up the beach and enjoy some beach clean-up games as you do so.

Why I Like this Book:

Using sparse text and full-spread, earth-toned, printed illustrations, the Pumphrey brothers have crafted a multi-layered picture book about a family, the sea, pollution, and finding a home.

As the story begins, a boat that’s already old carries a young boy and an adult, presumably his father or perhaps a grandparent, as they fish and dream. Both characters have dark skin. By midbook, the boy, now an adult, fishes alone until, after a storm, the old boat capsizes and sinks. In his newly adopted home, the young man “turned the tide” on the pollution problem by collecting trash on the beach, in the shallow waters, and even in deeper waters. This charming, quiet picture book has an allegorical feel to it that will appeal, I think, to younger children. The opportunity to discuss the changing relationship between the boy and the aging fellow sailor, the man and his environment, and the growing problem of ocean pollution will appeal to older children and adults.

A Note about Craft:

From the cover illustration, it’s clear that a young boy is at the heart of this quiet picture book. Or is he? For as the first and last lines make clear, it’s the old boat that takes center stage. It’s the boat that ties the first half of the picture book, featuring the young boy and an adult bobbing, fishing, and dreaming on the seas, to the second half, featuring the now-grown man, on a new island, working to clean up the beach and the surrounding waters. Has the boat chosen this place? Have the actions of the boat spurred the man to an epiphany, that he must spearhead the battle against ocean trash? Neither the text nor the illustrations answer these questions, but they do nudge readers to think about our relationships with each other, with our possessions, and with the environment.

And speaking of relationships, note that both brothers wrote and illustrated The Old Boat. Also note the long time span of the book, something that generally is difficult to accomplish in a picture book, even one, like this, quite a few pages longer than the typical picture book.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

One response to “PPBF – The Old Boat

  1. This book looks wonderful, Patricia! I will definitely have to find it! Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.