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World-renowned swimmer and bestselling author Lynne Cox and Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator Brian Floca team up to offer readers a touching story inspired by Elizabeth, a real-life elephant seal who made her home in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand.


When Elizabeth decides to stretch out across a two-lane road, the citizens worry she might get hurt or cause traffic accidents, so a group of volunteers tows her out to sea. But Elizabeth swims all the way back to Christchurch. The volunteers catch her again and again—each time towing her farther, even hundreds of miles away—but, still, Elizabeth finds her way back home.


A Junior Library Guild Selection

School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

A Washington Post Best Kids' Books of the Year

A Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book of the Year, with Outstanding Merit

2015 Irma Black Award Honor Book

Nominee for the 2015-2016 Wisconsin State Reading Association Picture This! Award

Nominee for the Bull Bransom Award, given by the National Museum of Wildlife Art

Nominee for the 2015-2016 Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice State Award

Nominee for the 2015-2016 Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award

Winner of the Maine Chickadee Book Award

Finalist in The Commonwealth Club’s 84th Annual California Book Awards in the Juvenile Literature category

Nominee for the New York State Reading Association 2016 Charlotte Award

Nominee for the 2015-2016 Georgia Children's Book Award

Nominee for the 2017 Illinois Monarch Award

Finalist for the 2016-2017 Nebraska Golden Sower Award

Preliminary nominee for the 2016-2017 Missouri Association of School Librarians Readers Awards

2016-2017 South Dakota Prairie Bloom Award List

Nominee for the 2018 Connecticut Nutmeg Book Award


Publishers Weekly (starred review):


“It’s tempting to call this a true fish-out-of-water story, except the eponymous heroine is actually an elephant seal, and she doesn’t see herself as displaced when she parks herself across a two-lane road in Christchurch, New Zealand. “Maybe she liked the feel of the warm firmness under her belly,” writes long-distance swimmer Cox (Swimming to Antarctica), “or maybe it was the sunshine fanning out across her back. But whatever it was, she decided to stay.” After many failed attempts to transport Elizabeth (who weighs “as much as fifteen Labrador retrievers”) to safer, more seal-friendly ground, her adoring but concerned public finally reaches a rapprochement with this sweet-faced force of nature; a photo of the real Elizabeth sprawled in her favorite spot appears in the afterword. The low-key text is beautifully amplified by Floca’s visual narrative, which takes readers from the busy downtown to distant, misty shores. The newly minted Caldecott winner may be best known for his more encyclopedic works, but he proves that whether the subject is trains or stubborn seals, he’s a master storyteller.”


The New York Times:


“Floca, whose book Locomotive won a New York Times Best Illustrated award last year, brings cheerful bright yellows, blues and greens to his scenes of Christchurch, and his precise draftsmanship easily describes the city’s architecture as well as the sweet-faced seal and her watery environs. Nature and urban life rarely intersect so incongruously: There’s something inherently funny in seeing commuters gawp and swerve around the huge, regal mammal. Children may wonder, “Who has the right of way?” That’s a very good question, which Cox, with great restraint, allows readers to ask — and maybe answer — for themselves.” Full review here.


School Library Journal (starred review):


“Cox opens this fact-based story on just the right note: "There was once a lovely elephant seal who lived in the city." A boy named Michael is fascinated with the marine mammal that chooses to live by or swim in the tranquil Avon River that passes by Christchurch's botanical garden. When the seal, named after the Queen of England, narrowly avoids death after relaxing on a warm city street, residents volunteer to move her to an elephant seal colony. After she makes her way back, they try two additional times to relocate her. Finally, knowing that city dwellers were secretly happy to see Elizabeth return to Christchurch, the city erects a "Slow. Elephant Seal Crossing" sign near her favorite sleeping place. The author generally avoids anthropomorphizing Elizabeth's motivation for continuing to return to the city by suggesting a few possibilities for readers to consider. Some basic facts about these huge marine mammals are woven into the highly approachable narrative, and a few paragraphs at the conclusion further explore more about their habits. A black-and-white photo of the famous seal sleeping on the pavement closes the book and reinforces its factual nature. Floca's gentle pen-and-ink and watercolor paintings perfectly capture Elizabeth's watery world. Double-page spreads nicely complement pages that feature smaller vignettes echoing the seal's rounded body. Especially effective is a page where Michael, who after nearly three months without his friend, wishes on the stars reflected in the river's water; the page turn reveals the seal's head poking through radiating rings of water while the boy shouts, "Welcome home, Elizabeth!" Children are likely to request multiple readings of this compelling told and lovingly illustrated true story.” —Ellen Fader.


Kirkus Reviews:


“Can you imagine living in a city with an enormous elephant seal in residence? Once upon a time in New Zealand, an elephant seal took up residence in the shallow Avon River and sunned herself in the parks and on the sides of the roads there. No matter how many times the humans roped her and towed her back to the open ocean, she would find her way back to the place she loved: the city of Christchurch. Cox, an open-water swimmer, must identify with the long swims that Elizabeth took in order to find her way home. Floca's watercolor-and-ink illustrations beautifully depict both the grandeur of the ocean and the architectural details of the bridges and buildings of Christchurch. Catching the sea at all times of the day, Floca treats readers to rare evening views of orange, darkening skies and water. Modern children will marvel at the freedom of Michael, the main character. He is a young boy alone: walking to school, playing by the beach and visiting the water at night to wish upon the stars. Though based on a true story, there are no bibliographic references for readers to follow to find further information about Elizabeth, nor is there any mention of when the story took place beyond dated-looking cars. A lovely if incomplete story of animals and humans living together.”


Booklist (starred review):


“Floca, fresh from his Caldecott-winning Locomotive (2013), lends delicate sun-washed watercolors to this charming story of an unusual elephant seal. Cox, a long-distance swimmer best known for Grayson (2006), a nonfiction adult book about a whale, uses a light hand and a sweet, wondrous, yet unsentimental touch to relate how Elizabeth, fondly named by the townsfolk of Christchurch, New Zealand, prefers to reside in a warm river rather than the ocean. But when Elizabeth begins to sun herself on a busy asphalt road, she’s deemed a potential danger and taken out to live with her brethren at sea. Miraculously, Elizabeth manages to return to her preferred home in the shallow Avon, not once but three times, even though each time she’s transported further and further afield. Cox anchors the story by imagining a small boy, Michael, enjoying Elizabeth and always waiting for her reappearance. Based on a true story—there is a photo of the real Elizabeth in the illuminating afterword—this is superior addition to shelves featuring wild animal personalities. Floca manages to convey Elizabeth’s appeal by focusing on the way her expressive face plays off her tremendous bulk. Her content, happy smiles as she floats in a bucolic world of hazy riverbanks and blue skies will appeal to animal lovers of every age.”