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Review of The Boy and the Whale

The Boy and the Whale
by Mordicai Gerstein
Primary    Roaring Brook    40 pp.    g
11/17    978-1-62672-505-8    $17.99

When a whale gets caught in their only fishing net, a boy and his father have drastically different reactions. The father leaves the ensnared animal in search of a replacement net, while the boy is focused on saving the whale. The book does not pass judgment on the father, whose practical concerns are rooted in the family’s well-being and survival. But it does celebrate the boy for looking beyond those concerns. The boy listens to his heart and, against the advice of his father, risks his life to free the whale. There is a revealing moment when the boy looks into the whale’s eye: “All I saw was my own reflection.” The empathy of that moment points to the boy’s motivation: for him, the whale’s situation and his own are intrinsically connected. At times the art is dazzling, particularly when Gerstein (Caldecott Medalist for The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, rev. 9/03) shows the dappled sunlight on the glittering surface of the sea or conveys the whale’s immensity. A series of spreads near the end that captures the boy’s joy at freeing the whale, his uncertainty when it dives and disappears, and his awe when it explodes out of the water is cinematic and dramatically paced. A helpful reminder that when faced with insurmountable odds, the impractical choice may just turn out to be the necessary one.

From the September/October 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Minh Lê About Minh Lê

Minh Lê is the author of Drawn Together, illustrated by Dan Santat, and Let Me Finish!, illustrated by Isabel Roxas. He blogs about children's literature at Bottom Shelf Books and writes and reviews for a variety of publications, including the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and The Horn Book Magazine. He served on the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee.

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