Kitts, Wendy. 2011. Sable Island, The Wandering Sandbar. Nimbus Publishing Limited, 90 pages.


Review: I am not a writer, and don’t consider myself one to critique an author’s literary abilities, but as a documentary filmmaker and someone who has been to Sable Island, I am highly interested in how the Island is represented to the public. So this is a commentary, rather than a comprehensive review...

 

There are already several authoritative books about Sable Island, including a few specifically written for young readers. Sable Island, The Wandering Sandbar by Wendy Kitts, is presented as a factual book aimed at seven to nine-year olds, and it attempts to offer an original perspective which could justify its addition to the bibliography on the subject.


The concept is good, and is intended to introduce young readers to non-fiction with a table of contents, illustrations, side-bars with additional information to connect several aspects of the Island to educational themes, and a small glossary. However, the choice of in-depth detail seemed haphazard, the glossary is unsystematic, there is no index, and the book contains many factual errors.


Although the design makes an attempt to be visually appealing, I was disappointed by many of the illustrations: some photos simply lack quality (under exposed, poorly composed), some provide inadequate views (badly cropped, or showing the main subject in the background of the image), and some do not actually show what is indicated by their captions (see below). This was a missed opportunity when one considers the visual potential the Island has to offer. 

 

I was also annoyed with the repetitive use of words such as “wild”, “magical” and “tiny”, beginning with the description of Sable Island as a “tiny sandbar” (page 3). Sable Island may be a small island, but I think most would consider it a rather large sandbar. Similarly irritating is use of the word “baby” to describe various young animals (which should have been referred to as foals, chicks, pups). Why should anything about this remarkable island sound like a romanticized “fairy tale” (page 6)?! Add a few aimless ‘jokes’ (e.g., pages 29, 31, 75) and it all seems like a forced ‘informal’ style. This may be intended to keep young readers interested, but to me it contradicts the attempt to introduce students to non-fiction reading with some new educational terms, and the overall effect seems condescending.  


Finally, I was surprised that a reputable publisher such as Nimbus would market this book as educational without comprehensive editing. Although some errors may seem like technicalities, they should have been corrected before publication. The following are some examples:

 

On three occasions (pages 3, 8 and 10) the author refers to Sable Island being in the “middle” of the Atlantic ocean. If it were in the middle of the Atlantic, the island would be over 2000 km from the coast of Nova Scotia. And it is actually less than 200 km from the coast.

 

The scale for the maps on page 11 is in miles. As a Canadian publication, surely distance should have been given in kilometres. Likewise, centimetres should have been used instead of inches on page 26.

 

On page 5, the caption for the lower photograph says “A grey seal sunbathes on the beach.” It’s not a Grey Seal, it’s a Harbour Seal.


Regarding the currents mentioned in the sidebar text on page 14, the Nova Scotia Current, not the Belle Isle Current, should have been listed. And the Gulf Stream flows several hundred kilometres south of the island. It does not “hit” the island. 

 

The photograph on page 15, identified as an albatross, seems inappropriate, considering that these birds do not even inhabit the North Atlantic. Local wildlife should have been used to illustrate the hazards of plastics. 

 

On page 17, in the sidebar text, the author explains “One day during a storm, the bottom floor of the lightkeeper’s house started filling up with sand. The lightkeeper and his family moved upstairs and went in and out through the windows.”  This did not happen. The author is referring to the old house at East Light (shown in the photo). After the light was automated and the lightkeeper had left the island, the house—both upper and lower floors—continued to be used quite comfortably, for more than thirty years, by researchers studying seals and horses.


Page 27, the author states that “The fog is caused by two of the ocean currents that meet at Sable Island. When the cold water of the northern Labrador Current mixes with the warm water of the southern Gulf Stream, a heavy fog is created.” This is not how the fog is formed. The fog forms when warm moist air passes over cool water.

 

The aerial photo on page 31 does not show what is described by the sidebar text. These are not the freshwater ponds; Lake Wallace is not in the shot; and the buildings are not those of the station. Rather, these ponds are brackish (salty), Wallace Lake is actually a couple of kilometres east of the area shown; and the buildings visible in the top left-hand corner are at the West Light site.

 

On page 34, the author mentions “A little sea sponge that grows in Lake Wallace is not found anywhere else…”. There is a sponge found in the freshwater ponds, but it is a freshwater sponge, not a “sea sponge”, and it is not found in salty Lake Wallace.


To say that the dead seal shown in the photograph on page 35 is “probably a victim of a shark attack” is misleading. All that can be determined from this bloated carcass is that it is decomposing, and appears to have been scavenged, probably by gulls. 


On page 37, regarding the statement that birds from as far away as New Zealand have shown up on Sable Island during storms, there is no record of a bird from New Zealand showing up on the island during any kind of weather.

 

The photographs on pages 45 and 53 show the skull of an adult Grey Seal. This is not a horse as is stated by the two captions.

 

On pages 48 and 49, the caption indicates that the two letters shown are examples of those sent during the campaign to save the horses. However, both are post-campaign ‘thank you’ letters.


On page 58, regarding wrecked ships, the author writes that “…Sable’s strong winds and waves bury it in the sand. An entire ship can disappear overnight!” There are no records of any ship being buried in sand overnight. Nor are there any examples on Sable of anything of that size being buried overnight.

 

Page 63, the caption states “Lighthouses, like the West Light above, are now automatic.” However, the West Light is not automatic because it was decommissioned and turned off in 2005.

 

Prepared for the Sable Island Green Horse Society

by Dominique Gusset (Duncan’s Cove, Nova Scotia), November 2011 ©