Mighty Moby by Barbara Dacosta, illustrated by Ed Young (9780316299367, Amazon)
This thrilling picture book tells the story of Moby Dick in a way that children can understand. The sailors sing of their travels and exploits. Then the captain shouts at a whale, giving chase. Finally, they reach the huge beast and send out boats that quietly row to his side. The captain throws his harpoon, spearing the beast who tows the captain down into the deeps. The whale again returns to the surface and then. Then the story takes a little twist away from the classic tale and into more familiar picture book territory: bath time.
In the author’s note, readers discover that the book was made backwards. Young created the art first out of collage and then Dacosta created the text, the words all taken from the original tale except for one. It is quite an endeavor to turn the huge classic of Moby Dick into a picture book. This one works surprisingly well thanks to a clear focus on the whale and the captain and their battle with one another.
As always, Young’s art is superb. He creates true drama on the page here, as can be seen in the cover image. The spearing of the whale introduces scarlet streams of blood onto the page along with the white of the whale and blue water. They dramatic dive into the water, keeps the red tinge to the whale and emphasizes the size difference between man and whale.
An exceptional work of picture book art. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Surf’s Up by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Daniel Miyares (InfoSoup)
Dude comes to the window to let Bro know “Surf’s up!” But Bro is busy reading his book. Dude is shocked that Bro would prefer reading to heading to the beach. Bro comes along, still reading his book as they walk along. As they walk, he tells Dude about Moby Dick’s story and then reacts with gasps and amazement as the story continues. Bro finishes the book as they reach the beach and suddenly it is Dude who wants to read more than he wants to surf.
Told in a merry back and forth between the two frogs, this picture book is entirely in dialogue. The dialogue is wonderfully effortless, reading just like any two real people shooting the breeze, lightly teasing one another, and then enjoying the drama of a tale well told. There is a breeziness and hipness to the book as well that will appeal to modern children looking for a cool read.
Miyares’ illustrations are double-spread and cover the entire page. The world he creates wraps around the reader, much the way the story of Moby Dick encompasses both of the frogs. The drama of the story is told in a deep blue and gray palette while the frogs’ world is lighter. When both frogs are caught up in the whale tale together, that story entirely takes over the page and the frogs become characters in the book.
A dynamite and fresh book to show that everyone can get into a good book, even when the surf’s up. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Stranded Whale by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Melanie Cataldo (InfoSoup)
In the fall of 1971, Sally and her brothers were walking home from school along the dunes in Maine. Sally spotted a big gray thing on the beach and realized that it was a stranded whale. The children grab their sweaters and use them to keep the whale wet. One of the brothers ran off to call for help and people from the community arrived with buckets. They tried rocking the whale to get it back to the ocean, but she was too big and they were too weak and small. Sally stayed by the whale’s huge eye, even as it breathed its final breath. The children were seen as heroes for what they did that day, but Sally knew that it would be so much more wonderful to have been able to see the whale return to the ocean.
Yolen writes with such poetry about nature that you are right there and experiencing it alongside Sally and her brothers. Yolen captures the world of the beach in her poems, showing all of the small living things that Sally dashes by on her way to the ocean with her sweater. Most evocative are the scents of the whale, who smells “of fear and deep water” at first. Then the whale last breath:
The sigh smelled like seaweed,
like lobsters in Dad’s traps,
like gutted fish on the pier.
Such imagery that captures in a subtle way the scent of death too.
Cataldo’s illustrations make sure to keep the scale of the enormous whale consistent from one page to the next. On some pages there is an expanse of grey flesh with one huge eye looking out. The effect is humbling, showing that nature is both bigger than us and also a part of us too. The illustrations are beautifully done, playing light and dark against one another as the whale slowly perishes.
A brave book that does not shy away from grief or wonder. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Trapped!: A Whale’s Rescue by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor (InfoSoup)
A wild whale is jumping, swimming and enjoying lots of krill to eat in the ocean waters. But then she runs into discarded netting from a crab fisherman floating in the water. The net catches her, cutting into her mouth and making swimming difficult. The a boat motor sound comes and along with it a group of humans who are hoping to rescue the huge animal. But it is so dangerous being near an animal of that size where even small motions can cause injuries to the rescuers. Still, they work close to the whale and begin to cut her free. They swim away if necessary and touch her with gentleness and care. Eventually the ropes and netting fall away and the whale is free to swim again. To say thanks, she gently touches each of her human rescuers before jumping for joy.
Burleigh’s text contains lots of information but it is presented through the lens of a story. This is a tale of one very fortunate whale, rescued in time from the netting. It is a story of wild freedom at first and then a desperate struggle and then impossible hope that she will survive after all. This is a real drama played out on the pages, from the danger to the whale to then the danger to her rescuers solely from her size. The final pages of the book offer resources about rescuing trapped whales and talk more about the dangers and about the whales themselves too.
Minor’s art is luscious on the page, taking readers under the water alongside the whale. There we float as the water changes colors and the light changes. Minor makes sure the show the size of the whale and of the humans on the same page, so that children will understand the size of the animal. It is beautifully and touchingly done.
An inspiring tale of the difference that even a small group of people can make in sustainability and saving animals, this picture book is a compelling mix of story and fact. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.
Whale Trails: Before and Now by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Released January 20, 2015.
A little girl and her father run a whale boat that takes people out onto the water to view the whales in the sea. Her family has worked the sea there for generations, so she explains how different their search for whales is from those in the past where the whalers were hunting whales. Each pair of pages shows modern day and then turns in sepia tones to the past. From changes to the pier and the businesses along it to the design of the boats themselves to the routes and tools used, each pair of pages show how things have changed. Yet at night as they head home, the bay is the same and so are the whales that live there.
Cline-Ransome has cleverly combined history with always-popular whale watching, creating a book that invites exploration. Not only is this a look at the changes of the boats over time and what they do with the whales in the bay, but more subtly and importantly, it also looks at the changes in attitudes towards wildlife. Throughout it is a hopeful book, examining the past with a frank and factual approach.
Karas’ illustrations clearly show the modern and the historical side-by-side. His sepia tones spread all the way to edges of the page while the illustrations themselves are framed by lines. The more colorful modern pages have illustrations that take up the entire page and are less formal feeling thanks to the lack of framing. These cues will help children keep the two time periods clear.
Clever, smart and engaging, this mix of modern and historical whaling is a superb addition to any library collection. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.
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.