From an assignment I submitted for LIS 6510 with Sue Todd:
Back in the day, I attended an elementary school in the northern suburbs of Oakland County. If my memory serves me well, it seemed that every two weeks our class would make a visit to the media center (back then, we referred to it as “the library”). For many of the popular books, such as the Choose Your Own Adventure and the Box Car Children series there was often times a rather long waiting list. One day while browsing the stacks for something different, I spotted a brightly colored spine in amongst a sea of dark and boring-looking rebound books. Leaving my wooden stick in its place, I spent the remainder of my time in the library thumbing through its pages. Over the course of several weeks, I renewed my time with the book and it soon became a favorite. The title of my find, The Ice Cream Ocean and Other Delectable Poems of the Sea – selected and illustrated by Susan Russo.

As the title hints, each poem selected for the book has something to do with life in the sea with several pieces also including themes of food. Referring to chapter 8 of Charlotte Huck’s Children’s Literature (9th edition), the author cites findings from a study conducted by Ann Terry. The third point encompasses what elements influence a child’s selection of poetry: (a) the poetry form, (b) certain poetic elements, and (c) the content, with humor and familiar experience being particularly in enjoyed. Common threads: the poems in this book rhyme and many of the pieces have a very specific rhythm that make them fun to read. Familiar elements, such as a see-saw and a classroom environment, humor loaded into the poetry, as well as the illustrations (which include candy, ice cream, and other sweets) quickly draw the reader into the book’s pages.

The Ice Cream Ocean by John Mackay Shaw

If the ocean waves could ever
Be of ice cream made,
I could swim in them and never
Be the least afraid.

If they made the finny fishes
Out of lollypops
And the pebbles were delicious
Little lemon drops,

If the sand were sugar candy
And the rocks were cake,
Just imagine what a dandy
Dinner that would make.

I would never more be lonely
With my pail and spade,
If the ocean waves could only
Be of ice cream made.

Through the use of creative language, Shaw (pages 8 – 9) has transformed natural elements of the sea, such as the sand, pebbles, and fish scales into delectable treats that play with a child’s senses and imagination. Not only can a child draw upon their experiences with sight and taste, but they can also imagine the texture of sand as sugar candy or pebbles as lemon drops. In addition to the fantasy element, the natural rhyme and rhythm of Shaw’s poem makes the piece enjoyable for a child to read. Russo’s illustrations add to each poem by creating a scene for the child to visually digest thus helping to further cement the ideas presented by the various authors. The illustrations are appropriate for a range of children and even peak the interest of adults.

Referring back to my story of how I initially found this book, as a child, I was drawn to the bright colors on the book’s spine. The selected poem, also one of my favorites as a child, features a sugary ocean with frothy waves that could be frosting topped with ice cream. Deep in the sea, fish made of lollypops swim amongst peppermint sticks and rocks made of torte and cupcakes – truly a child’s dream. As an adult, I found myself enjoying Russo’s creativity and was reminded of the fantasy world created by Chris Van Allsburg.

Facts from WorldCat:

“Humorous poems about the ocean from poets such as Ogden Nash, Jack Prelutsky, Jane Yolen, John Ciardi, and X.J. Kennedy.”

Out of 270 libraries that own the book, only two are in Michigan: Plymouth District Library and the Bruce T. Halle Library at Eastern Michigan University.

For collectors and those interested in the out-of-print market:

To date, the book is no longer in print. In a search for a copy to add to my personal collection, I found former library copies going for just a few dollars, but those are usually a nightmare for the collector. (Library stamps and stickers, while completely necessary for the library, are a nightmare for collectors!) Privately owned copies of the book started around fifty dollars and spiked into the mid-hundred dollar range.