The Grumpy old Sailor

books white- grumpy old sailorJanice Armstrong,
illustrated by Meilo So



This is the first of four books to be produced by Meilo So and Janice Armstrong. Janice has written the text and Meilo has illustrated it.
This is a project which has taken two years to come to fruition. It is based in Shetland and the tale is told by a young lad called Magnus. He describes a Grumpy Old Sailor who comes to live in the old shore cottage. Not an easy character, the old sailor and the children don’t always see eye to eye but to say more would be to spoil the story, a story you must read for yourself. The book is first and foremost a childrens book yet it is hoped that it will be enjoyed by all ages.

Review in The Shetland Times 22/1/2010, The Grumpy Old Sailor, Meilo So and Janice Armstrong. So & Co Books, £9.99.

The best of children’s books have a strong sense of place while also maintaining a universal appeal – The Grumpy Old Sailor by Meilo So and Janice Armstrong scores on both points. The story has a strong Shetland flavour and it touches on the conflict between the generations. This book deserves to be a Shetland classic.

Meilo So has lived in Shetland for the past seven years and is a well established illustrator with an international reputation. Her award winning work for major American publishers has appeared in over 20 books for children and has been adapted and translated for a much wider readership. Her newest book is a worthy addition to an impressive list and provides further evidence that Meilo has fully assimilated the influences of her new home.

The collaboration between So and Janice, who has provided the narrative, tells the story of a crusty old salt who moves into an old croft house where he has to con tend with the unwelcome attention of four local children and their curious cat. The old sailor’s attempts to build a boat are initially frustrated by the youngsters, but the exuberant and joyful images signal a happy, if poignant, ending.

The writing style combines prose and poetry with interspersed rhyming couplets and this complements the pictures nicely. Since Meilo had over all control of the production the final result is a very professionally finished book which does full justice to the lavish illustrations: the inserted “spy glass” on the front cover is a nice touch.

The narrative should be easily read by children over eight years and younger children will be able to determine the seasons and story by studying the illustrations. Some of the pictures depict the sailor’s travels – and maybe Meilo’s own globetrotting past? – and young readers could have an enjoyable game identifying curios with their country of origin.

The local references will intrigue adults as well as children, as they try to locate a particular beach or workshop, although the series of model fishing boats sitting on a dyke is a bit of a giveaway.

At one stage the children in the book burst into a chorus of What Shall We Do With A Grumpy Sailor? and the answer is easy, buy the book! And join the reviewer who intends to invest in copies for his many grandchildren.

Mike McDonnell


The sea is also the backdrop to an evocative tale from Shetland. The Grumpy Old Sailor written by Janice Armstrong and illustrated by Meilo So (So & Co Books, £9.99) is a story of young and old. As a group of children get to know the old sailor, it turns out he’s not so grumpy after all and can tell wonderful stories of his many years of travel. But why is he building a new boat? The wind blows through each page of illustrations, bringing to life the rhythmic prose.

Scotsman June 2010


…. The language is a mix of prose and poetry which sounds nice read aloud, but the story itself is quite poignant. I think books like this are meant to be read aloud to children, and looked at by them, rather than read by them. I’ve been drawn back to the book throughout the day to properly work out what’s happening – it’s still a bit mysterious, but if I wanted to explain death to a small child I think this would be a good place to start.

Despite how that sounds it’s not a depressing book, but it is affecting – which is no bad thing for children, the morals aren’t hammered home, and the pictures are wonderful. Strongly rooted in place I still think it’s a book that will travel well, and one I hope to give to quite a few families this year particularly because I really love the illustrations. There is a cat that keeps appearing that I had to go back and hunt out in every page and dozens of other details that I really enjoyed – so thank you dad, a great book for children from six to thirty six.

Reader’s review (Hayley Anderton’s Blog Desperate Reader)’ 7th March

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