Book Review: The Great South Bay

“The Great South Bay” // By Jeanine O’Grady // Children’s Picture Book // South Shore Betty $28.95

In “The Great South Bay,” author/artist Jeanine O’Grady shares her affection for Long Island’s South Shore with young readers. Born and raised in Bay Shore, the local beaches were her playground.Take away her engaging illustrations – not for long I hope – and you have an informative, easy-going narrative of the bay – which is “actually a lagoon,” its fishermen, and the different types of fish that inhabit it. To help youngsters build their vocabularies, a key word on each page is highlighted in a larger font.I suspect adults will also learn from the text; this landlubber did. For one thing, bluefish flood the bay in spring and when the fluke run in April, squid is the bait of choice.Drawing on her sizeable knowledge of the area, O’Grady provides some interesting history on the fishing industry: “Once upon a time” more than half the clams and blue crabs produced in the country came from the Great South Bay. The bay is the original home of Blue Point oysters, but due to over-farming and pollution Blue Point oysters as an industry almost disappeared. The good news is that new oyster farmers have taken an interest and the oyster business is making a comeback.It’s not only fish that are important in the bay, but the wetlands as well. Their plant and animal life absorb the forces of flood and tidal erosion to prevent loss of upland soil.Sailing and paddleboards, longboards and surfing, O’Grady knows them all, and lets readers know how to utilize the bay for year round fun. I have it on good authority that Field 5 at Robert Moses State Park is a keeper. Wide beach, a boardwalk and a snack bar to boot.By stepping out of the bay proper and offering descriptions and drawings of landmarks such as the Fire Island Lighthouse, Captree Bridge, and the Robert Moses Causeway the author gives the book a comprehensive feel.The boldly outlined images have a commanding look to them, and O’Grady makes good use of a palette of many colors. To depict the sea and land life, backgrounds are awash in tones of blues and greens, the sand is a golden yellow. The proverbial Fire Island wagon boasts a vibrant red. There’s a pink-faced fish: “HELP ME… Glub! Glub!” Sea glass is sand-washed and subtle.In a note to the editor of this paper the author mentions the importance of learning about “the bay we live near, its resources and how to protect it for future generations.”O’Grady has done a fine job presenting her knowledge and appreciation of the Great South Bay in a text that youngsters can grasp and in illustrations that will absorb them. She is teaching young readers – the author holds a BA in Art Education – to be aware of the natural world that surrounds them, and in a low-key but meaningful way, lets them know they have a responsibility to preserve that world.