The Boy and the Whale by Mordicai Gerstein (review)
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Reviewed by
Gerstein, Mordicai The Boy and the Whale; written and illus. by Mordicai Gerstein. Roaring Brook, 2017 [40p]
ISBN 978-1-62672-505-8 $17.99
Reviewed from galleys R 5-8 yrs

Early one morning, a boy looks out to the ocean and spots a struggling whale; he and his father jump into the fishing boat to discover the animal caught in their fishing net. When Papa cries, “I hope we can save it!” he means the precious net, on which their livelihood depends; however, young Abelardo, who remembers the terror of being tangled in the net himself (“I almost drowned”), hopes instead to save the whale. When Papa returns to land to find a replacement net, the boy defiantly heads out on his own, hacking bit by bit at the huge net and persisting through exhaustion to finally free the creature. What could be just a pleasing animal rescue story takes on additional resonance with Gerstein’s contextual reminder that there are multiple lives at stake here; Papa isn’t anti-whale, just sensibly concerned about feeding the family and the safety of his son in the water with an injured and unpredictable animal. Palm trees, sparkling water, the use of the word “panga” for the boat, and the humans’ warm brown skin suggests this takes place in Mexico or Central America. Gerstein’s painterly line and watercolor art is more interested in the sea than the land, however, with compositions employing various strategies to convey the breadth of the ocean, the size of the whale, and the geometric intrusion of the net. An early introduction to the tension between economy and ecology, this will be a talking point for youngsters not ready for the Scientists in the Field series.

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