Kids Book Club: Paddle-to-the-Sea

Welcome to our Captain Scupper’s Kids Book Club. We will be recommending some of our favorite Great Lakes children’s books. Each of these books highlights different and important parts of the Great Lakes experience.

written and illustrated by Holling Clancy Holling
Suggested Interest Level: Ages 5-11
Suggested Reading Level: Grade 3


Near Lake Nipigon, north of Lake Superior in Ontario, Canada, a young First Nation* boy carves a figure of a man in a canoe and carves these words into the bottom “PLEASE PUT ME BACK IN THE WATER. I AM PADDLE TO THE SEA.” He then places his “paddle person” in the snow, knowing that the melting snow will carry the paddler to a nearby river that will carry it into Lake Superior and eventually all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Paddle-to-the-Sea, originally published in 1941 and a Caldecott Honor Book in 1942, remains a classic Great Lakes children’s book. Paddle’s journey leads him through different Great Lakes ecosystems and industries. He encounters a sawmill, commercial fishing and narrowly misses being run over by a lake freighter. He also see s a beaver pond, a northern marsh and even takes a long fall over Niagara Falls. Holling’s book is written in 27 brief chapters, each one accompanied by a compelling color illustration. Through these chapters, Holling leads the reader through the Great Lakes waterways and gives an excellent overview of life on the Great Lakes in the 1940s.

HISTORICAL NOTE: Holling uses the term “Indian” to describe the young man who carved Paddle-to-the-Sea. The terms used in Canada today are “First Nation” or “first peoples.”

BUY THE BOOK: Purchase your own copy of the book at our online store here and proceeds go to support the National Museum of the Great Lakes.

FREE RESOURCE: In 1966, the National Film Board of Canada produced a film version of Paddle-to-the-Sea, directed by Bill Mason. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.


Using one of the maps provided below, trace Paddle’s journey as you read Paddle-to-the-Sea. Increase your difficulty by using the blank map and writing in the names of the lakes, rivers, states, provinces and countries.