Review of The Fisherman & the Whale

The Fisherman & the Whale
by Jessica Lanan; illus. by the author
Primary    Simon    48 pp.
5/19    978-1-5344-1574-4    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-1575-1    $10.99

In this dramatic wordless tale, a commercial fisherman and what appears to be his son collect fish in the large net thrown from their boat. They sail on — that is, until the boy notices their fishing lines have entangled a whale. At the boy’s urging — the gestures between the boy and man give the story a nail-biting momentum — the father dives into the ocean to free the creature. Lanan’s watercolor and gouache paintings are expansive and cinematic as she takes readers under the water; gives us aerial views; and, in a moment of profound connection just before the man frees the whale, paints on the verso the pupil of the man’s eye reflecting the whale and, on the recto, the pupil of the whale’s eye reflecting the two humans. While there is occasional spot art, most spreads are full-bleed and place readers right at the center of the action. Three vertically oriented spreads are put to effective use: we see the whale fully entangled and giving up; then later the father freeing the whale; and the whale swimming free. In one jubilant spread at the book’s close, the whale leaps from the water next to the boat while father and son raise their hands in elation. An afterword provides more information on whale entanglement, with the author stressing broader issues of human-led environmental damage. She also notes the dangers of people in reality freeing whales on their own and asks readers to look upon her story as more of a “fable.” However it’s defined, it’s a compelling tale worth sharing.

From the May/June 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Julie Danielson
Julie Danielson
Julie Danielson writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. She also writes for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and is a lecturer for the School of Information Sciences graduate program at the University of Tennessee. Her book Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and Peter D. Sieruta, was published in 2014.

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