RIP XIII: The Eyes of the Amaryllis

The Eyes of the Amaryllis, by Natalie Babbitt, is one of my favorite books. When I was teaching, I read it aloud to my sixth grade students, year after year, and never tired of Babbitt’s lyrical, descriptive, lovely writing. My Grandson started school last week, a 5/6 grader now, and it triggered memories for me of those special books I loved and read each year. It was definitely time to reread this one.

It is an unusual story. Eleven year old Geneva (Jenny) Reade, went to help her grandmother, also named Geneva, who lived beside the ocean. Gran had broken her foot and needed some extra help. Jenny was excited to see the ocean for the first time, but not very excited about having to cook or help her grandmother with those kinds of things. However, that’s not the kind of help Gran needed. With her broken foot, Gran could not walk the shoreline each day, searching. Jenny would have to search for her.

Jenny’s grandfather had been a sea captain on the ship, The Amaryllis, and while arriving home during a fierce storm, the ship sank and everyone aboard was lost. Sadly, it sank within sight of the shore, and both Geneva’s father and her grandmother watched helplessly from the bluff. The trauma of watching his father’s ship go down was too much for young George, and he soon left the oceanside and went to live with an aunt who lived inland. Gran stayed at their home at the ocean, waiting for anything to wash up from the wreck…waiting for “a sign from her darling.” Nothing ever washed up, but Gran kept vigil checking the shoreline after each turn of the tide…for over 30 years, but nothing ever washed ashore.

Geneva soon learned that her grandmother’s life centered around the sea, the tides, her undying love for the sea captain, and for her hope that he would somehow send her a sign.

Your grandfather and I—what we felt for each other doesn’t just stop. Remember what we talked about the first night you were here? There’s another world around us, Geneva, around us all the time, and here I can be closer to it.

There is another important character in this book, called Seward, who calls himself the “guardian of the sea.”  His job is to walk the shoreline and make sure that nothing the sea values is taken, and if something of value is found, it must be returned to the sea.

Gran explained to Jenny that Seward was once a sensitive artist/sculptor who threw himself into the sea after being rejected by a woman he loved. His body was never found, but he returned mysteriously and walks the shoreline each day. No one but Gran has seen him. His story is fantastical, and Geneva can hardly believe it…except that she, too, has seen him.

“He really saw the ship on the bottom,” she said. “Yes,” said Gran. “Sailing. Keeping watch. The sea bottom was covered with treasure, he told me, and there were lots of wrecked ships, too, great ruined hulls, lying down there forsaken, full of holes and rotting away. But the Amaryllis, and all the ships with figureheads, are kept whole and clean, he said, to sail on the bottom and guard the treasure.”

It is the figurehead from The Amaryllis that finally washes ashore. And then the story gets really interesting.

I won’t tell you more. You’ll have to read it to find out what happens. But I will say that it was wonderful to share this story with my students! You wouldn’t think that sixth graders would necessarily want to sit through a story about undying love, but they listened with rapt attention to this one. It captured all our imaginations and our hearts!

This was my third book read for the Readers Imbibing Peril XIII.

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