“The Famous Phoebe of Long Island: Phoebe’s Adventures at Sailors Haven”

“The Famous Phoebe of Long Island: Phoebe’s Adventures at Sailors Haven”

By Jean Derespina & Illustrations by Amelina Jones

Children’s Fiction 5-8 years / Mascott Kids

photo: @FamousPhoebeofLI

Review by Rita Plush

Long Islander Jean Derespina, a writer of marketing materials, has brought her affection for Fire Island and its seashore to the pages of a children’s book.

This is a story about Phoebe, a puppy who is adopted from a shelter and has adventures on Sailors Haven with her new parents, Jeana and Frank. It is a warm and engaging story that will resonate with anyone who has a dog or is thinking of adopting one. But the book is more than that. It’s about feeling loved and protected, and though the tale is told from a puppy’s point of view, it could very well be a child who is telling the story.

Phoebe is “the luckiest puppy in the world because out of all the puppies in the shelter, I got picked by the nicest family. They love me very much.” And off they motor in their boat into the Great South Bay, Phoebe “more than a little scared at first,” but Jeana held her close while Frank drove.

Phoebe has many experiences at Sailors Haven. She makes friends as children do, and her excitement is palpable when she learns she can swim. In the forest she comes upon animals she has never seen before. “A long, skinny animal that didn’t have legs or paws wiggled right by us!”

On the walk back to the beach, Phoebe notices three deer grazing and makes the connection that her parents are going to have their dinner too, linking humans to the animal world.

Venturing out on her own, Phoebe dashes down the beach after a bird in flight. After the bird is out of sight she worries. “Where was everyone? Where was I? I was alone, and I was really scared,” her doggie brain thinks, but her fears could just as well be the fears of a child.

I can see a parent reading this story and saying to their little one. “You must never run away or go where we can’t find you,” the child nodding solemnly.

The soft watercolor drawings by Amelina Jones play on the easy narrative. Jones uses blues, blue/greens for water, and browns for the puppy and vegetation in many of the illustrations, but she is not confined to a limited palette. Variations of yellow and yellow/greens come up in a spread where the family is walking through Sunken Forest, the prose set on the page as if illuminated by the sun. On the other end of the spectrum is black, used lavishly in a dramatic nighttime scene. The pages come to life with little pinpoints of white like “millions of stars lighting up the sky.” The boat’s “gentle rocking kept [Phoebe] asleep all night,” as the family headed back to shore.

And that’s what this book is: a gentle story about family, with little Phoebe its centerpiece.