Review of Mister Cleghorn’s Seal, by Judith Kerr

Mister Cleghorn’s Seal

by Judith Kerr

HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2016. First published in Great Britain in 2015. 94 pages.
Review written in 2016.

I’m going to list this book with Beginning Chapter Books, but there aren’t actually any chapters. However, the pace, length, and reading level are consistent with other Beginning Chapter Books. There are black-and-white drawings by Judith on every spread, keeping young readers interested.

The story opens with Mister Cleghorn sitting on his balcony watching the sunrise, wondering how he will get through the whole day.

I should never have sold the shop, thought Mr Cleghorn, even though the people who bought it had paid him a tidy sum. Whatever am I going to do with myself?

While he is watching passersby, he sees the janitor of his building scold a little middle-aged lady for bringing her sister’s canary into the apartment building. “No pets!” shouted the janitor. “You know the rules! No pets in the flats!”

Later that day, Mr Cleghorn gets an invitation to visit his cousin and his family. Cousin William is a fisherman, and William’s son Tommy has been watching a cute seal pup by the shore. Mr Cleghorn takes an interest in the pup as well.

Then one morning he found the little pup lying listlessly on its rock. It looked up for a moment at the sound of the oars, but turned its head away at once and lay down again. It seemed sad and thinner than before.

William tells him that some seals were shot the day before, and the pup’s mother must have been one of them. It can’t live without its mother, so they should put the pup out of its misery. But Mr Cleghorn can’t bear to let the pup be shot, so he decides to take it home with him. He plans to take it to the zoo right away.

Next comes the adventure of getting the pup home and figuring out what to feed it. Once there, he needs to hide it from the janitor.

When he accidentally leaves the water running with the pup in the tub – he meets his downstairs neighbor, the lady with the birdcage. She becomes his ally in hiding the pup from the janitor. Her father was a vet, and she even knows the keeper at the local zoo.

But when the two of them go to the zoo, it has a new owner and has fallen into disrepair. The rest of the book is about trying to find a permanent home for the seal pup, yet keep him hidden while they are looking. The eventual solution makes everyone happy.

This is a nice book for animal lovers. Unfortunately, the true story in the author’s note in the back about the seal Judith Kerr’s father kept doesn’t have a happy ending, so it dampened my enthusiasm a bit. But perhaps her way of finishing will appease young readers:

I always loved this story. I wished I could have known the little seal, and I wished more than anything that the story could have had a happy ending. Perhaps that is why, more than a hundred years later, I have made up a different story, which has one.

I’m thinking of this as a quieter version of Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Charming.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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