Before Loch Ness came to fame, a serpent came to Gloucester, Massachusetts. Way back in 1817, the creature was spotted offshore, and for days it frolicked in the harbor. The next summer, it even came back. Massachusetts resident and award-winning children's author M.T. Anderson has penned a lovely and lively verse that chronicles the incident, narrated by a young boy from Gloucester. Anderson's verses ring forth like a sea chantey, echoing, It came from the sea, from the lonely sea/It came from the glittering sea. Soon word gets out beyond the town, and folks come from far and wide to get a glimpse of the strange beast. By the following year, pirates with peg legs and knives arrive in a mob, ready to kill. Anderson writes: They stumped down the lane, singing killing songs/And lifted their patches to squint and to look. The narrator sets out in a rowboat behind the murderous crowd, praying that the serpent stays out of sight. I won't reveal the outcome of the hunt, but will say that it is rewardingly riveting.

Complementing Anderson's exciting verse are absolutely marvelous paintings by Bagram Ibatoulline, who used 19th-century maritime paintings as his inspiration. They offer gorgeous glimpses into the life of an early American fishing village. For instance, Ibatoulline paints a haunting portrait of the beast shimmering in the moonlight, and his gang of spear-bearing marauders look like they stepped right out of the pages of Treasure Island. Elementary school children will revel in this tale, enjoying the excitement and mystery surrounding the serpent and the hunt, while learning much about life in an earlier time. There's much to prompt classroom discussions here, including the topics of mass hysteria, mob justice, the American fishing economy and a young boy's beliefs and heroism.

Most of all, though this is a mighty good sea-going yarn. Don't miss this heartwarming tale of a wondrous and apparently real event. Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts.

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