The Storm Whale by Benji Davies
Noi lives with his father in a house by the sea with six cats. Every day, his father goes out fishing, leaving Noi alone all day long. One day, after a big storm, Noi sees something out on the beach. It’s a baby whale. Noi knows it will not live long without water, so he takes the whale home and puts it in the bathtub. He spends time with the whale, telling it stories. But he also worries that his father will be angry when he finds a whale in the house. So Noi tries to keep the whale a secret from his father, but it doesn’t last for long. A whale is a big secret to keep in a small family. Together, the two of them return the whale to the sea, but not before they each learn something about one another and how to move forward as a stronger family.
Davies manages to tell a profound story using minimal words. The text in the book mainly explains the action that is happening. It does not offer insight into the emotions of the characters. That is a large part of the power of this book. So much goes unsaid but is clear to the reader. Noi’s loneliness is shown rather than told. Him lingering by the window as his father leaves, the fact that he brings the whale home across a stretch of beach rather than pushing him back into the nearby water. Even the father’s reaction is shown this way, allowing the emotions to be realized rather than explained.
The illustrations tell much of the story here, but again in a quiet and frank manner. The emotions are not broadcast from the character’s faces but from their situations and their body language. It’s a brave way to tell a story about a father and son reconnecting with one another.
Adeptly conceived and powerful, this picture book speaks to loneliness and family, and would be great as a discussion book for young children about emotions. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.
Following Papa’s Song by Gianna Marino
Little Blue and his Papa are traveling farther than they ever have before as they migrate, following the song of the other whales. Little Blue has lots of the questions and his father encourages him to keep listening for the song. As they travel, Little Blue learns about the different layers of the ocean. Then he notices light in the darkness below and just has to head down and see what it is for himself. He discovers a magical layer of life in the ocean, but when he heads even lower there is darkness and no other creatures are there. Little Blue tries calling for his Papa, but his little voice doesn’t carry far in the cold water. Then he remembers that he needs to listen and he hears his father’s call from above.
Marino paints a beautiful picture of father and child care and love. Her use of whales and their calls is a smart choice that really makes the theme of being lost as a child work well on a higher level. The advice to stay still and listen will also work for young humans hearing the story. The book is simply written so that even the youngest of children can enjoy this underwater story.
Marino’s art is filled with currents and colors. She creates light and water that dances and moves on the page, clearly creating different layers in the ocean. I particularly enjoyed the use of bright pink to show the layer of the ocean with all of the life in it that tempts Little Blue downward. The greens and blues of the ocean water truly come to life on the page here.
A lovely story about fathers, children and the importance of listening when you are lost. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
The incredible partnership that brought you And Then It’s Spring last year has recreated a similar magic in their second book together. In this book, a young boy heads to the sea to try to spot a whale. There are things that you must have to see a whale, one is time to wait and another is a way to not get too comfortable and doze off while waiting. There are also things that you must ignore, like sweet pink roses that want you to look at them or boats that are floating by or insects crawling in the grass. Just keep your eyes on the sea and wait. And then…
Fogliano’s writing is poetry. She lets us wander into distractions, taking our own eyes off the sea to explore the grass, the roses and the clouds in the sky. Her pacing is delicious, making us wait for the payoff in the end in a way that doesn’t promise anything other than the wait and the sea itself. It is that wait and that meander that makes this book so wonderful. In other words, she makes the book about the journey, about being in the moment, about noticing.
Stead’s illustrations are done in her signature style with fine lines and organic colors that seem to come from childhood crayons. Adding the friendly dog into the story works well, he serves as another pair of eyes both watching for the whale and being distracted.
Lovely, simple and filled with charm, this picture book is thoughtful, quiet and worth the wait. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.