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Top 100 Picture Books #78: Zoom at Sea by Tim Wynne-Jones, illustrated by Eric Beddows

#78 Zoom at Sea by Tim Wynne-Jones, illustrated by Eric Beddows (1993)
26 points

This is far and away my favorite picture book. It did come out in the States but I don’t think it got wide distribution so this is likely its only vote. Even though it has black and white pictures, and I typically prefer color, this book is the perfect imaginative and an engaging book for pre- readers. What an adventure! I don’t consider this to be an early reader, the words and story are more complex. – Christine Kelly

That’s what I love about this list.  Every once in a while the Canadians will join together and promote one of their books.  And who’s to say no to them?  After all, this is not the first time this book ended up on the list.  Last time I took a poll it ended up at #75.  Now it slips three places to #78 but remains pretty consistent.  This book, the first in its own picture book trilogy (the other two are Zoom Away and Zoom Upstream), is clearly beloved by a certain sector of the North American continent.  Not that it didn’t come out in America as well, mind you.  But perhaps its distribution was selective.  Whatever the case, I’m willing to give it props.  If the Canadians say it is good, we should probably seek out a couple copies and see if they’re right.

The plot as described by BookList is, “A young domestic cat with sailors among his ancestors, Zoom tries paddling in the kitchen sink and sailing in the bathtub, but nothing satisfies him until he discovers a mysterious message from a seafaring uncle. Following directions, he enters a house, and there a lady magically calls up the sea. Zoom quickly builds a raft, sails away for a short jaunt, and soon returns.”

I’ve learned from my mistakes.  There was a bit of confusion last time around because Zoom at Sea seemingly has two illustrators.  In some places you’ll find it’s by one Eric Beddows.  In other places it’s credited to Ken Nutt.  What to believe?  Well, due to the fact that Eric Beddows and Ken Nutt are the same person (thank you again, Debora Pearson) a couple things are cleared up.

Want to know more about it?  Check out this review of the book in the CM Archive.  And when it came out in Canada in 1983 (I’ve included the American publication date beside the title here) it won the Amelia Howard Gibbon Award for illustration.

Publishers Weekly said of it, “Beddows’s intricately detailed black-and-white drawings convey just the right sense of mystery as the world created by both author and illustrator seems to hover tantalizingly between reality and fantasy, and the plucky hero has an adventure any child would envy.”

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. ChrisinNY says:

    Sigh (of satisfaction). SOOOO glad it still made the list.

  2. I have never heard of this book, but now I must have it. At first Amazon glance, it looks like a challenge to find.