In Print

Author Billie Hancock. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Author Billie Hancock with Amos on her porch overlooking Menemsha Harbor, a scene featured in her book. Photo by Ralph Stewart

A picture book glimpse of Island life

By CK Wolfson - July 20, 2006

"Lobstering with my Papa," by Billie Hancock, Illustrations by Joan Walsh, Ruby Window Productions, 2006, 44 pages, $19.95. Audio book read by Susan Klein included.

There is much to recommend this gently told, simple story that manages to combine Island traditions, a tender relationship, and the merits of basic values. Written by longtime Islander Billie Hancock, it is a personal tribute to her late husband, Herbert Hancock, an Island native who forged a relationship - one task and one lesson at a time - with their grandson. The story relays on the details of a routine familiar to Islanders to harvest the sea, and the merits of basic values.

First-time author Ms. Hancock recounts in picture book fashion the annual summer visit of her grandson Mark who comes from Florida to spend July with his grandparents' at their Chilmark home. And this year is going to be a particularly special time because Papa has promised to teach Mark how to go lobstering.

Lobstering with my Papa by Billie Hancock

The work is not glamorized. Smelly bait barrels, dragging the skates and other fish in totes down the steep steps to the dock, cruising Menemsha Pond to find their white and red buoys, hauling the pots - it's all included in a straightforward manner.

" 'OK, Mark, grab the line and start pulling it in.'

I threw down the gaff and I grabbed the line with both hands. I pulled and pulled. Papa always makes it look so easy when he does it. But it took me a long time to haul in the pot, and I got tired.

'This is hard!'

Papa said, 'Yeah. But hard work is good for you.' "

There are no surprises, no plot twists, no exaggerated moments. Written in the clear voice of the eight-year-old boy, the story demonstrates rather than lectures. In true Island style, the lessons, which include those about thrift as well as work, are learned by doing.

Whatever the text might lack in grace or style, it makes up for in unadorned detail, facts, and honesty. Readers will discover things they might not have known about lobsters and lobstering. The book even includes a glossary of terms.

Island artist Joan M. Walsh, a native of Ireland, illustrator of Merrily Fenner's "The Secret," and "Just About the Right Size" by Patricia de Koven, created the art for the book. So diligent was Ms. Walsh, she went lobstering with Frank Fenner in order to capture the mood and spirit of the work.

Her brightly colored paintings, many based on family photographs supplied by Ms. Hancock, contribute the same specific and personal approach as the story. The faces take on a portrait-like appearance. While the Menemsha scenes, faithfully depicted, are rendered in recognizable details, some of the more effective are the less complicated illustrations, such as those of the lobsters being held and then banded, or the ones focusing on Papa Herb and Mark working together.

Ms. Hancock consulted with Ms. Fenner, who helped bring the book's publisher, Susan Klein, and Ms. Walsh to the project. Clearly, it has been a happy collaboration

In her first time venture as a book publisher, storyteller Susan Klein (Ruby Windows Productions). Already the producer of a long list of her own spoken-word audios, Ms. Klein says, "It was high time for a gentle book about men and boys," and adds, "The whole aspect [of the story] that was captivating was that it is classic Vineyard." She goes on to note the book's focus on the Island resources, which added to its appeal. u

There will be a book signing of "Lobstering with my Papa," at Bunch of Grapes on Monday, July 31, at 7:30 pm.