Finn loves to swim with the seals in a secret cove. He arrives at the cove one day and rescues a young seal tangled in netting. Finn wishes the seal could live on land. That night the seals sing. "No good comes from seal songs," says Finn's father. When Sheila, a mysterious girl no one has ever seen before, appears on the cannery docks, the fisher folk are uneasy. They believe the newcomer is a magical selkie, a shape changer.
A strong sense of place, sinewy prose, and an unusual blend of workaday life and fairy tale dreaminess distinguish Spalding's (Secret of the Dance) Pacific Northwest fantasy. Finn, the son of a salmon fisherman, befriends and rescues a seal, then wishes out loud for her to take human form. Sure enough, a solemn girl in a long dress named Sheila appears, and Finn's family's salmon fishing takes a turn for the better. When Finn dismisses Sheila's warnings and ventures into a terrible storm ("You're just scared of the sea," he scoffs), she gives up her human form to save him. "Finn lay asleep on the shingle. Protecting him, like a velvet blanket, was the seal. A fall frost sparkled across her back." The oil paintings by Milelli (The Art Room) are composed, mosaiclike, of planes of saturated color that mimic the play of light across the water and the faces of the fishermen. The sober reality of the tweed caps of the men on the docks and the cannery's wooden buildings anchor the story's magical elements in a particularly piquant way. Ages 4 8.