Book review: ‘Working Boats’ entertains with meticulous illustrations and is a great resource for both kids and parents

“Working Boats: An Inside Look at Ten Amazing Watercraft”

By Tom Crestodina; Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books, 2022; 56 pages; $19.99

The first boat I ever boarded was a Washington State ferry. I was born in a Seattle hospital, but my parents lived on an island in Puget Sound and had to bring me home by sea. For the next 18 years, I rode those boats, and while I’ve since spent most of my adult life in Interior Alaska, far from open water, my memories of those ferries, a routine part of my childhood, remain vivid.

So when I encountered the double-ended ferry section of Tom Crestodina’s recent kids’ book “Working Boats,” and particularly his well-rendered cutaway depiction of one, I felt like I was looking at a picture from my own past. A VW Bus descends from the dock down to the crowded car deck, people wander the upper levels, and the crew shifts from the wheelhouse facing the dock to its opposite twin on the boat’s other end as they prepare to return in the direction they arrived from.

Best of all, however, is his below deck cutaway. There, the engines chug, the pipes direct exhaust out the smokestack, and the engineers stand watch. Back in the far less security conscious days of the 1970s when I was a curious kid, those engineers would occasionally invite us down into that dark, oily, mysterious realm to see the inner workings of a craft that served as a lifeline for my community, ferrying both residents and all their needs back and forth from the mainland.

Today’s kids, I suspect, are less fortunate in that regard. If it weren’t for terrorists, the lawyers would be keeping them out of them up top. Fortunately, they have Crestodina to provide them with nicely detailed drawings of the engine rooms in 10 different working boats, along with the rest of those crafts as well. An Alaska fisherman by trade and an artist by vocation, he brings his knowledge of the boats plying Alaska’s coast to the page in a format perfect for grade school kids, and fun for their parents.

The boats featured here can all be found in waters off Alaska. Crestodina takes readers aboard fishing vessels, a research ship, Coast Guard cutters, tug boats (every kid’s favorite at one time or another), the aforementioned ferry, and a fireboat. Each one is introduced through a full one or two-page drawing of the craft, with cutaways showing what transpires on the various decks. These are followed by several pages of sketches and brief explanations of key components of the vessel and why they are important.


Many Alaskans will be quickly reeled in by Crestodina’s study of the humble salmon seiner, a small boat with a big job. A couple stands on the upper deck while a skiff begins extending a net. Rain gear hangs from hooks on the wheelhouse. The boom is secured and ready to deploy. Below deck, the hold is beginning to fill with fish, tools and a guitar are stowed in the fo’c’sle, and socks and towels dry on a line. Above the seiner, a seaplane soars towards the coastal mountains rising up and fading into the distant mist. A more iconic scene from Alaska’s southern coasts would be hard to imagine. On the following pages, Crestodina diagrams the three primary parts of the boat, and through art and words, explains how salmon are caught by those crewing the craft.

The similarly-sized Bristol Bay gillnetter is another salmon boat, one that operates in a competitive zone that Crestodina describes as “one of the best examples of successful renewable resource conservation in the world.” The accompanying details include drawings of the brailer bags caught salmon are stored in, the traffic jam of gillnetters that can quickly develop when brief openings are announced (“This is the wildest fishing show in the West: summertime in Bristol Bay, Alaska,” he writes), and even a rather humorous depiction of a couple of the boats colliding, an occupational hazard that is offset by arming their hulls with inflatable bumpers.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has research vessels on the water, and as Crestodina shows, they sometimes come equipped with gyms, something fishing boats don’t have the space to include. These boats do important work, however. Mapping the shore and sea floor is just one thing NOAA tasks its workers with. They also perform vital atmospheric and biological research, and study wave movements. Buoys equipped with sensors not only gather data but can provide life-saving information on potential tsunamis, alerting those onshore.

During emergencies, it’s the Coast Guard that comes to the rescue. Crestodina shows readers five different vessels that guardsmen use, from tiny motorized lifeboats to marine-class cutters to icebreakers. He explains how rescues are performed, and, for any motorheads who happen to pick up the book, the launching and reloading of jet boats from larger ships is detailed (the words “top speed” are part of the explanation, words that will catch the attention of at least a few young readers whose attention might otherwise wander).

When he’s not drawing boats, Crestodina clearly enjoys depicting fish. Salmon, both living and dead, are among those found. But the hands-down winner is his three-part illustration of the life phases of a halibut. At first it looks normal, in the second image its left eye begins migrating to the right side of its suddenly confused face, and in the third, it reaches the Picasso stage of having both eyes on one side. The expression Crestodina put on the fish as it stares upward from the sea bottom is worth the price of the book alone.

“Working Boats” is a great resource for kids, and as I mentioned earlier, their parents as well. The drawings will attract beginning readers, the text will keep bringing them back as they master their skills, and the complete package will appeal to grownups. As another summer of fishing commences, this book will let readers know what sort of boats can be found off the waters of Alaska.

David James

David A. James is a Fairbanks-based freelance writer, and editor of the Alaska literary collection “Writing on the Edge.” He can be reached at