Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain by Edward Ardizzone
Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
This is the book that will introduce children to “Davy Jones’s locker”, the euphemism for drowning that they will reencounter in Treasure Island and Moby Dick. Standing on the bridge of the sinking ship, the captain says to the frightened Tim, “Come, stop crying and be a brave boy. We are bound for Davy Jones’s locker and tears won’t help us now.” Used by sailors since the 18th century, the derivation of the phrase remains uncertain. The locker refers to a seaman’s chest, but the identity of Davy Jones is a mystery.
Little Tim (modeled on the author’s 5 year old son) lives with his parents in a house by the sea and longs to be a sailor. He hides himself as a stowaway on a coastal steamer and quickly becomes the favorite crew member on board. A violent storm dashes the ship upon a rock, and Little Tim and the Captain await their watery death. In the nick of time, a lifeboat appears out of the waves and effects a heroic rescue. Tim makes his way back to his parents, bringing the captain home with him.
The endearing Tim is a capable and courageous lad who lives a remarkably independent life. Never once on his maritime adventure does he mention his loving parents. When he arrives back at home, he finds his parents waiting patiently, delighted to see him (never any recriminations from these two), and quite willing to assent to future voyages with the captain – these are the kind of permissive parents for whom all children long.
Edward Ardizzone, born in Indochina, was a French national of Italian and Scottish parentage. Despite his multinational heritage, he was quintessentially English and his atmospheric drawings capture the coastal town of Ipswitch where he spent his childhood. Adept at swiftly rendered pen and ink and watercolor sketches, his work is gentle, delicate, and lively. He had a real sense for the sea and conveyed both the rolling whitecaps of a storm and the quiet lap of wavelets in a harbor. His practice of interspersing text with his soft-edged drawings, his use of speech balloons, and his humorous details (note the floating wooden box and broken mast labeled FLOTSAM and JETSAM) all give his stories an exciting forward momentum.
Though a self-taught artist, Ardizzone became a much-beloved illustrator who received the Kate Greenaway Medal in 1956, its inaugural year. He illustrated over 200 books, by such authors as Eleanor Estes, Edith Nesbit, Charles Dickens, and Graham Greene. But he is particularly remembered for his Little Tim books, written in an earnest, yet light, deadpan style, filled with adventure and warmth. There are eleven Tim books, written over the course of some 40 years. Maurice Sendak, an Ardizonne admirer, was especially fond of Tim and Charlotte.