‘Mister Cleghorn’s Seal’ by Judith Kerr: Touching (mostly) true story


Rating: 4 stars

“Mister Cleghorn’s Seal” is Judith Kerr’s first children’s novel in 37 years, and it’s worth the long wait.

According to the publicist, “The story is based on a real life experience from when Judith Kerr’s father had taken in an abandoned seal pup when he was young, which Judith recounts in the book’s afterword. Unfortunately, that story did not have the happy ending that Mr. Cleghorn’s does—precisely why Judith chose to rewrite it.”

How lucky for the readers of this charming book that she did. Seal stories with unhappy endings would not be enjoyable reading. In fact, even thinking of the real-life Charlie having a sad ending to his story is disheartening.

Kerr did the line drawings that help bring the story to life. When Mr. Albert Cleghorn visits his cousin by the seaside, his nephew takes him to see a seal pup at the harbor. He tells his uncle that some of the fishermen shoot seals because they don’t like the fact that seals eat some of the fish they could catch. They watch silently as the pup’s mother comes and he nurses.

One day, Cleghorn notices that the seal pup is lying listlessly on its rock, thin and sad. His nephew tells him that they were shooting seals up the coast, and the mother may have been a victim. When his family thinks that shooting the baby seal is the kindest thing to do so it doesn’t starve to death, Cleghorn decides to save the pup.

The rest of the charming story is about how Cleghorn befriends the lady who lives below him when Charlie sends water splashing over the side of his tub and it wets the ceiling of the apartment below. Miss Craig helps him hide Charlie from the janitor as they try to figure out where Charlie can go to live.

Children will love the ending (adults will, too), and this could very well become a favorite book for bedtime. Kindergarten children could enjoy this book as a read aloud and older children in first, second and third grade will enjoy reading this on their own. Even older children will be charmed by the simple but touching story.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Harper Collins, for review purposes.