Traditional Thursdays: The Wreck of the Zephyr


This book is not all that traditional, but having been published in 1983, I think Traditional Thursdays is the best place to review The Wreck of the Zephyr. This is honestly one of my favorite books from my childhood and I was quite surprised that nobody had done it for this blog before.

The Wreck of the Zephyr was written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, a Caldecott winning author that most people know from his more popular books like Jumanji and The Polar Express (he is also from Michigan and graduated from the U of M, so he’s a hometown hero to me).  While The Wreck of the Zephyr is one of his lesser known books, it is still a literary and visual masterpiece.

imgresThe tale begins with the author wandering in the hills above a small fishing village, where he runs into an old man and the wreck of a small fishing boat, resting far above the shore. When asked about the peculiar wreck, the old man tells a story of a young boy long ago who was the best sailor in the entire village. The story goes one to describe this boy’s adventure that ultimately ends with him finding a hidden town that knows the art of sailing in the sky, him receiving a pair of magical sails, and eventually, in his sailing hubris, crashing the boat into the hills and injuring himself. The book ends with the old man walking away with a limp, hinting that he was that boy from long ago.

The plot and written portion of the book are similar to a lot of Van Allsburg’s books, with the ending leaving the reader to decide what actually happened. The story is fantastical and mysterious, giving the reader a beautifully haunting book that feels like a flipping through the pages of a dream.



The illustrations are perfectly suited to the story, with misty, stormy colors and great lighting effects that accentuate the dream-like nature of the book.

In the end, The Wreck of the Zephyr is an almost modern fairy tale, with a story and pictures that would make for a great bedtime story or something of that nature. In this way I think it is entertaining for children and adults alike to read, which is a happy medium that is often hard to come by. If you liked Jumanji or Van Allsburg’s other books, then give The Wreck of the Zephyr a read. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

~Peter Burke



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