"Ella & Monkey at Sea"

On Thanksgiving Day, my thoughts naturally turn to the blessings of family, home and friends. But on this thoroughly American holiday, I also remember those who journeyed to the United States, putting down roots in hopes of making a new and better life here. Among them are my British mother, now 93, who left England at the end of World War II, and more distant relatives, generations past from Germany and Scotland.

The picture book I’m reviewing today, “Ella & Monkey at Sea,” addresses the pain of leaving the country in which you’ve been born, saying goodbye to loved ones, your native language and familiar traditions. How many among us would have the courage it takes to risk so much?

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As a child Emilie Boon left her home in The Netherlands to come to America—quite a change for an adult but even more traumatic for a child. The author reflects on adjusting to a new land in “Ella & Monkey at Sea.” Using a stuffed toy monkey, Boon relates the feelings that threaten to swamp little Ella.

At the harbor, the girl clutches the paw of her monkey as she hugs her teary-eyed Oma goodbye. “Monkey doesn’t like good-bye hugs,” the child says.

Then it’s up the gangplank of the big ship for the long trip across the ocean.

Monkey has issues with the single bed on the ship, missing his own at home, and there’s nothing playful about the playroom on the ocean cruiser where monkey sags alongside the girl, her face lonely and perplexed. Dinner isn’t any better – who likes to eat fish – all Ella and monkey want is one of Oma’s specialties. When rough weather hits, “Monkey is getting grumpier: The sea and the wind are wilder: The ship rocks harder; higher – up, down, up, down—like a seesaw.”

Feeling sick and mad, monkey and Ella make their way to the empty dining room, where crayons lay on the table, offering an outlet for the pair’s pent up emotions as they draw in “…angry black. Scared gray. Cold blue…” Eventually their creations give way to more cheerful pictures that Ella ends up handing out to passengers. Big changes take lots of getting used to is the theme so beautifully presented in this sweet, simple picture book. Ages 3-7.