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disappearing island-cover

Video of Corinne reading The Disappearing Island

The Disappearing Island

Illustrated by Ted Lewin

Hardback by Simon & Schuster, 2000
Paperback edition published by
Off the Common Books/Levellers Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1937146009

Learning Resources
Behind the Scenes
Excerpt and Author's Note

In the News
 How to Get This Book


Carrie wonders about the mysterious island that her grandmother plans to take her to on her ninth birthday, a place that is visible only at low tide and the rest of the time remains a secret beneath the waves. When they finally make the trip to the island off the coast of Cape Cod, Carrie is amazed to find that it's nothing more than a flat stretch of beach in the middle of the sea. But as she and her grandmother set out to explore, Carrie discovers many treasures -- a broken brick in the sand, a piece from a lighthouse -- all traces of an island community that is long gone. The greatest treasures of all though are her grandmother's stories, which bring the past to life for Carrie and help her to appreciate the beauty and power of nature.

Chosen by the Massachusetts Center for the Book to represent Massachusetts
at the 2012 Library of Congress National Book Festival
A "Top 40" selection of Yankee Magazine
Selected by the Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College of Education (starred )
“Best Children’s Books for the Year”  (2001 edition)
Honor Book, Massachusetts Book Award, 2001
Included in the 2006-2008 traveling exhibition
This is Our Land: Discovering America and the World through Original Illustrations from Children’s Books
building on Billingsgate

Behind the Scenes

lighthouseThe Disappearing Island was a project that took many years to complete. I was first inspired to write about Billingsgate Island when I discovered it with my family in the summer of 1994. I did background research at the Wellfleet Historical Society and the archives of the Cape Cod National Seashore. I knew that Ted Lewin, who had illustrated my book Matthew's Meadow, was the perfect illustrator for my story.

newspaper photoA year later, Ted came out to Cape Cod to work on The Disappearing Island with me. His wife Betsy acted out the part of the grandmother in the story, my daughter acted out the part of Carrie, and Ted photographed the scenes. We all traveled out to Billingsgate Island in a boat like the one in the book. Ted took hundreds of slides, and later used them when he worked on his watercolor illustrations. He used old photographs of the island for the part of the story that takes place a century ago.

sheetWhat's the difference between Ted's realistic watercolors and his photographs of the same scene? When you compare the two, you can see how much Ted changes to illustrate and enhance aspects of the story. In his paintings, he's able to rearrange elements, focus on details, and convey emotions that the camera never sees. The watercolors capture what it's really like to be on Billingsgate Island better than any photograph can.


the box     For my ninth birthday my grandma gave me a small box. Inside was a perfect sand dollar and a note. The note said:
    To celebrate your birthday we will voyage out to the disappearing island where I found this sand dollar when I was just your age.
    "How can an island disappear," I asked.
     Grandma laughed. "When I take you out to Billingsgate Island, Carrie, you'll see," she said.





Stories of islands that have disappeared beneath the sea have long exerted a powerful hold over the human imagination. This beautifully told and illustrated story hints at some of the reasons why this may be so.  On Carrie's ninth birthday, her grandmother gives  her a small box containing a perfect sand dollar and a note promising to take her to Billingsgate Island. . . Grandma steers the motorboat out to the island, where the two picnic and explore, finding artifacts of the flourishing community that once inhabited the island. Carrie closes her eyes and imagines how life might have been here long ago, in a sequence of pictures depicted in warm apricot earth tones that contrast with the coolness of the sea. There is a sense of the inexorable procession of time and the relentless power of the sea, stayed only in part by the transmission of stories and memories from one generation to another. ‘What I love about a place like this,' says Grandma, ‘is that it reminds us that nature still can have its way once in a while.' Lewin's watercolors are luminous. The predominance of blue and the long lines of the horizon unify the pages, making this book lovely to look at as well as to read.

-- Kirkus Reviews

Demas invests her finely etched blend of realism and fantasy with supple imagery—a “strange rusty creature that looked like the backbone of a whale” turns on the islandout to be a metal spiral staircase from a defunct lighthouse; the tide claims the edge of the beach”  Working in his customary watercolors, Lewin (previously paired with Demas for Matthew’s Meadow) conjures land- and seascapes bathed in dazzling summer light.  From the vigor of the board ride to Carrie’s waking dream, rendered in beachy pale orange wash that gives it visual distinction, Lewin is wholly in control of his medium.

-- Publishers Weekly

Although science teachers will want to integrate this tale into a unit on tides and erosion, this portrayal of a loving, vibrant, muscular (and, blessedly, not condescendingly portrayed as cute or feisty) grandmother, who knows how to keep her reminisces brief and to the point, could also be a prime selection for Grandparents Day celebrations.

-- The Bulletin of Children’s Literature

Treasure this book when all the world’s news seems to be about disappearing forests or wetlands or farms, for this is a tale of nature’s power to reclaim and make invisible our temporary stamps upon it.  . . The girl’s present is not only the trip but what her grandmother’s tales help her to imagine, what life was once like there.  Ted Lewin uses an unusual orange-washed background for the scenes of the past.  Few contemporary watercolorists can work the sparkling sun on the ocean as well as Lewin, and all the varieties of blue and sand are amazing.

-- The Chicago Tribune

Although readers will be fascinated by the story of Billingsgate Island, it is the loving relationship between Carrie and her grandmother that gives emotional depth to The Disappearing Island. The relationship is highlighted in the spectacular watercolor illustrations by Lewin.

-- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In the News

"Ducklings, Islands, and Barns That Talk: The 40 Classic New England Children's Books," by Kristen Laine, Yankee, December, 2000

“‘Disappearing Island’ set on Billingsgate,” by Elsa Allen, Provincetown Banner,  July 13, 2000.

“Local lore retold as child’s tale,” by Michael Lee, The Cape Codder, Day & Night , July 12, 2000.

“Cape Cod Journal” interview by Bob Seay, WOMR-FM, Provincetown, July 7, 2000.

“Here and Now” WBUR , Boston’s NPR News Station Interview with host Robin Young, Monday, June 26th.  (A tape of the show available from WBUR, or listen to the complete show online.

“Sojourns, wild water & spunky females:  Cape Cod is setting for new books by Corinne Demas”  by Bonnie Wells,  Amherst Bulletin, June 2, 2000.

How to Get this Book

over thereAsk for it at your local library.
Ask at your local bookstore.
Order it online directly from
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Ted Lewin is the illustrator of more than one hundred books for children and ted lewinyoung adults, many of which he also wrote.His awards include a Caldacott Honor for Peppe, the Lamplighter. In order to create the illustrations for The Disappearing Island, Ted and the author traveled together to Billingsgate Island. Ted's wife and Corinne's daughter acted out various scenes of the book while Ted photographed them; he used these photographs as models for his paintings. Ted lives with his wife, Betsy, who is also a children's book illustrator, in Brooklyn, New York. His most recent books include Stable (which he wrote and illustrated) and The Longest Night. Visit his website: