Keep chipping away: Three books by Sam Connery | Island Books

Beth Helstien ... book reviewer and San Juan Island Library outreach coordinator. - San Juan Island Library
Beth Helstien ... book reviewer and San Juan Island Library outreach coordinator.
— image credit: San Juan Island Library

Uncle Willie and The Cheadle Cup (2008)
— That Frog (2009)
— Secret at Chipping at Green (2009), all by Sam Connery

How do you read a book?

Are you looking for beautiful prose or gripping action that makes you turn the pages? Do you crave characters that make you weep or a setting in a landscape or time far, far away? Or are you, like one of my favorite characters, Alice, looking for conversation? Do you like to peruse the pictures and perhaps the captions and maybe only then read the text if your interest is piqued?

Sam Connery is the kind of writer that visually oriented readers will like. His detailed illustrations draw the eye into the story with action, character, and setting.

Sam has had experience writing and illustrating children’s books before: he wrote and illustrated remedial readers and worked on line drawings for workbooks for Reader’s Digest Services in addition to his career at Sunset magazine. That was before he retired and developed his work as a landscape painter here on San Juan Island, where he is well-known for work both in watercolor and oil painting, and for being a downright nice guy.

In “That Frog,” a beginning reader, a boy brings home a frog and asks his dad if he can keep it. The amphibian gets loose in the house. Dad finds he has a hard time catching it again. The illustrations, reproduced in black and white from original watercolors, are alive with the emotions of the characters, the movement of the animals, and the hilarity of the devastation caused by the chase.

In “Uncle Willie and the Cheadle Cup,” Connery is much more the writer and much less the illustrator, writing a chapter book for a slightly older audience. The line drawings in pen and ink are perfect for paperback reproduction. The story takes two children on a time travel with their grandfather. Kids love the repetition of the time travel journeys. With more prose and fewer pictures, Connery has fewer opportunities to shine at what he is best at it this book.

In “Secret at Chipping Green,” another chapter book, Connery finds the perfect balance between illustration and text, and most of the action takes place in conversation. He has written a book that kids will like, and he clearly had fun making the pictures. The sly humor in the art comes through, conveying characters’ idiosyncrasies and emotions with just a few lines. Many of illustrations are reminiscent of old-fashioned comic strips, and they feel perfect for the setting of the book in the rural English countryside.

“Secret at Chipping at Green,” and the other titles reviewed here, like all books reviewed in this column, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

— Beth Helstien is the outreach coordinator for the San Juan Island Library. She may be contacted at 378-2798 most Wednesdays through Fridays or at You can read more of her reviews at her blog,

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