Review of Maybe a Whale

Maybe a WhaleMaybe a Whale
by Kirsten Pendreigh; illus. by Crystal Smith
Primary    Groundwood    40 pp.
8/23    9781773066646    $21.99
e-book ed.  9781773066653    $16.99

The unnamed narrator’s grandfather has died, and her mother is taking her on a trip he had planned for them, to the ocean to see his beloved whales. The girl doesn’t want to go, but she packs up her stuffed whale and draws whales in the condensation on the car window while the pair drives to the coast. They transfer to a kayak and paddle to the island, where they camp. Illustrations with watery backgrounds blur the line between sea and sky, showing mother and daughter in fog and rain, at twilight and dawn—in liminal moments that echo their grief. There is wonder here too. A stunning spread shows the kayak from below, glowing moon jellies surrounding the boat and the light of the sky filtering down deep. Night falls, and the girl is disappointed that they still haven’t seen any whales, but they build a fire, boil noodles and toast marshmallows, and discover bioluminescence when they rinse their hands in the salt water. “Why are there more stars here? Is grandpa up there?” They’re just getting ready to sleep when they hear the “pushhhhh” of humpbacks surfacing. They can’t see them, but they can hear them, a metaphor for all we can’t see that is still present in our lives. A tender testament to love and loss.

From the November/December 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Adrienne L. Pettinelli

Adrienne L. Pettinelli is the director of the Henrietta (NY) Public Library. She has served on several book award committees, including the 2015 Caldecott Committee, and is the author of Helping Homeschoolers in the Library (2008).

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