Boats Can’t Jump: The Story of the Soo Locks by Laura Barens

Review by Deborah K. Frontiera

Boat’s Can’t Jump: The Story of the Soo Locks is a delightful nonfiction picture book explains with words and illustrations why the locks at Sault Ste. Marie were built and how they work. Young children learn from both pictures and words, and this author/illustrator pair did a good job with what could have been a tricky topic. The pages at the end contain a glossary, interesting facts, and a timeline for parents and teachers or older kids reading the book on their own. The catchy rhyme scheme will appeal to the youngest listeners.

The opening scenes show early fur traders portaging their canoes around the rapids of the St. Mary’s River. I liked the worried “eyes” on the canoe at the start because “boats can’t jump” over the rocks and rapids. Then the upside-down portaged canoe is smiling. All other boats and freighters have eyes expressing various emotions. This provides a natural way for parents or teachers reading to young children to ask, “If boats could talk like people, what do you think this boat might be saying?” which leads to a good discussion in which young children can express their comprehension. (Yes, the retired teacher in me picks up on these possibilities.)

Several scenes show how a ship passes through a lock and all the different types of workers required to manage and maintain the locks year-round. Children, and even many adults, may not think that the locks need to be cleaned and maintained, or what it’s like during the winter when lake and river surfaces are covered with ice.

I especially liked the line of semitrailer trucks showing that one freighter can carry so much more than the freight that trucks can. Pictures truly say a thousand words in this book, and they are well done for the most part. The only one I found a little confusing was the righthand page (14) showing a freighter going upstream through the lock. While the illustration makes a nice “V” shape with page 13, it might have been better if page 14 showed the freighter “literally” going “uphill” the way the one on the left goes “downhill”. But the diagrams showing the opening/closing of the gates and the outflow/inflow of water are well done and easy for young children, who have a difficult time visualizing anything abstract, to understand.

While even my grandchildren have long passed the picture book stage, I’m looking forward to taking Boats Can’t Jump: The Story of the Soo Locks the next time I volunteer to read to little people at my local library story hour.

Boats Can’t Jump: The Story of the Soo Locks
By Laura Barens, Illustrated by Don Lee
ISBN 978-1-957169-17-0
Chapbook Press, Grand Rapids MI, 2022,
nonfiction, children’s picture book, ages 4-8,
ret. $11.99


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.