Review of The Whale Who Swam Through Time: A 200-Year Journey in the Arctic

The Whale Who Swam Through Time: A 200-Year Journey in the Arctic The Whale Who Swam Through Time: A 200-Year Journey in the Arctic
by Alex Boersma and Nick Pyenson; illus. by Alex Boersma
Primary    Roaring Brook    48 pp.  g
5/22    978-1-250-80302-3    $19.99

During its lifespan, a bowhead whale, “the longest living mammal in the world,” experiences both physical growth and environmental change, creating the dual focus of this touching and informative narrative. Readers meet one particular (imagined) bowhead—a female that spends her entire life in the Arctic—throughout four distinct time segments: two hundred years ago, one hundred fifty years ago, fifty years ago, and the present. Each section opens with a soft-hued, double-page illustration depicting the same setting. In this place, the calf begins life in the peaceful ocean, surrounded by snow and ice and abundant wildlife. As the narrative progresses, several navigation ships appear, seemingly harmless, but precursors to nineteenth-century whalers with their deadly harpoons, and later oil rigs and submarines. In the present, the once-quiet Arctic is not only noisy, making whale song communication difficult, but also an area that now includes cruise and cargo ships, oil spills, plastic waste, and abandoned fishing nets. Dramatic watercolor and gouache illustrations, primarily in deep blue, black, and white, depict changes on land and sea: receding ice; fewer walruses and polar bears; factories and settlements replacing igloos. Extensive authors’ notes provide scientific information on bowheads; brief descriptions of other Arctic animals depicted in the illustrations; and historical overviews of whaling, the Indigenous people of the region, and the search for the Northwest Passage; and acknowledge the limitations of anthropomorphizing the central subject.

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Betty Carter
Betty Carter, an independent consultant, is professor emerita of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University.

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