Cards on the table right from the beginning: I don’t like gulls. Living in Lossiemouth, I found them at best a nuisance and sometimes downright terrifying. Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t harm them but I do struggle to see why they’re protected. And I certainly wouldn’t pay for a vet to treat one (although I did once phone the SSPCA when I found an injured one in my garden).
All this made the initial storyline of Stella and the Seagull a bit tricky for me. I couldn’t quite understand why Stella would make a pet of a little seagull. But when I saw Izzy Burton’s illustrations of it, I realised that it was very sweet. And, of course, the story that Georgina Stevens tells around the bird is very important. So back to the beginning…
Stella and Granny Maggie live in a flat in a seaside town. They have a wonderful view of the beach and the lighthouse and the sea. And a little seagull visits them every day bringing gifts from the beach: shells, twigs, plastic straws, balloons… And then one day the seagull doesn’t come so Stella and Granny Maggie go out to look for her. When they find her, she’s clearly unwell so they take her to a very sympathetic vet who explains that the gull has eaten lots of plastic. And that gives Stella and Maggie the idea of having a beach clean-up party. Everyone in the town gets involved and it’s a huge success.
And the book is a huge success too. Obviously it’s an idealised version of life in a seaside town where everyone is not only concerned about harmful plastics but also willing to put their money and effort where their mouths are. But this is a book for small children, designed to give them an awareness of the damage that humans cause whilst, at the same time, showing them that they can all make a difference. And it does that very well.
The story is simple but not facile. Stella worries that no-one will come to the clean-up party and realises that she can’t do everything herself. She writes to her favourite chocolate makers and asks for their help because she has found wrappers from their bars left on the beach. And when she takes her posters round the shops, she sees that their owners are also willing to make changes now that someone has made them think about the damage certain products do. So, yes, the book describes the best of all possible worlds but it also points out that everyone can – and must – play their part.
The story is well paced and well told. The language is accessible but not banal and the characters are more developed and rounded than in many picture books. And I absolutely adore the illustrations! I like their style and bold colours and their expressiveness. As with all the best picture books, the illustrations carry part of the story, as the book shows, rather than tells, some of the problems caused by plastics. I suspect, too, that adults sharing the book with children will pick up lots of additional details. The words and pictures are both integral and work brilliantly together.
But most of all I love the pictures of the beach and sea and the description of the little town. In fact, the book made me want to live there, in a house with a sea view naturally. I can imagine browsing in the bookshop and taking my purchases into Cafe Luna to read whilst drinking coffee.
Oh, and the little seagull recovers.