Norman (Fish) Finelli is an old-fashioned kid. He’s been feeding coins into his piggy bank, actually a ceramic lobster bank, to save up — not for a Jet Ski, but for a Seagull, “one of the finest motorboat engines ever made,” which is going to go on this leaky bucket of a boat he’s fixing up.
He knows the history, too: “The British used them to power light assault craft during World War II,” he informs his rival, the cool and cruel Bryce Billings, during the course of Erica Farber’s new short novel for young readers, “Fish Finelli: Seagulls Don’t Eat Pickles” (Chronicle Books, $15.99).
Fish dreams of buried treasure, not video games — one in particular, a chest full of “pieces of eight, Arabian gold, emeralds, rubies, diamonds” thought to be hidden by the legendary pirate hunter Capt. William Kidd somewhere on Lyons Island, privately held for centuries and now occupied by a sole inhabitant, a widow known as the Lioness.
Ms. Farber, who lives in Amagansett, does more than just make creative use Gardiner’s Island lore. The history of East Hampton, transposed here to a place called Whooping Hollow — all history, for that matter — is made exciting through our hero’s clandestine excursion to investigate the artifacts in the local library’s Special Collection (based on the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection, where Ms. Farber logged many hours doing research). In a nice twist, even the library director is made hip, in his all-black clothes and silver sports car. Mr. E. Mann is the name, Mystery Man to the kids. He might even be a spy.
The adventure moves along briskly, helped in this regard by Jason Beene’s comic-book-like illustrations and Ms. Farber’s historical factoids, dropped in throughout the text and set off by graphics and shaded boxes. And by the humor: Fish and his buddies, Roger, a child of divorce, and T.J., who’s never without food in his mouth, don’t let up with the banter, least of all in the climactic scene, as dark fate strides toward them and they fear they’re “toast.”
“Not just toast. Burned toast with no butter or jam,” Roger puts in.
“White or wheat?” T.J. wonders. And on.
But to get back to that Seagull engine for a minute, it’s to be used in the Captain Kidd Classic, “the biggest boat race of the summer.” As for the result, did I mention this is Book 1?
Yummy Summer Day”
Also set on the water is perhaps the beachiest book of the season, “Taffy Saltwater’s Yummy Summer Day” (Random House, $16.99) by Michael Paraskevas of Southampton. This one conjures a boardwalk phantasmagoria of outlandish establishments — candy from a bulging red rocket ship, Edna the Lemon-Ice Lady selling her wares out of a piece of fruit that even the Flanders Big Duck would find outsized — and oddball characters and creatures, from Rollo the Beach Ball, in fear of a seagull’s puncturing beak, to Mr. Footer the Hot Dog Man, sporting a mustard-yellow tie. And let’s not forget Rigby Rabbit, the put-upon stuffed toy with one missing eye.
Now, please, there is nothing so prosaic as a plot at work — the book is rather a chance for Mr. Paraskevas to let his hair down as an artist — but Rollo does find himself blown away in a stiff wind, leading to hot pursuit by eight of his friends atop Bob the (giant, inflatable) Sea Monster.
Thus is found the perfect spot for their sand castle, big as a McMansion.
“Fire House 1-2-3”
Can a fireman get some literary love around here? Joseph Lenahan has gone the self-publishing route to release his children’s book, “Fire House 1-2-3” (Trafford, $16.10). The carpenter and Montauk Fire Department member calls the book a tribute to his dad, who showed him the ways of the firefighter and took him along to clean fire trucks when he was a boy.
It is both an introduction to the tools of firefighting, partly in the hopes of capturing the imaginations of future volunteers, and a counting book, leaving the lessons in fire safety to Sparky, that smiling Dalmatian who graces so many grade-school handouts, stickers, and refrigerator magnets.
Let’s be honest: Some will find Mr. Lenahan’s illustrations rudimentary. But this writer, for one, was drawn to them precisely because they’re childlike and have the look of crayon-work about them.
The word is “authentic.”