The Boy and the Whale

illus. by Mordicai Gerstein. 40p. Roaring Brook. Nov. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781626725058.
Gr 1–5— As the sun rises, a boy sees something big out in the sea—a whale. The boy Abelardo and his fisherman father ride their panga out to the whale who is caught in their fishing net. Pragmatic Papa is concerned about his net, but his son wants to save the whale. Back on shore, the boy's conscience tells him he must at least try to help the animal. He rides the panga back. He dives and cuts the net, dives and cuts, until the whale finally breaks free, reveling with joy. When Abelardo returns to shore his father awaits, hands on hips. With a hug, Papa commends his boy for following his heart to do something foolish yet brave. The first-person narrative balances action and dialogue that are both casual and filled with a gentle gravity. Gerstein's storytelling is simple yet effective. The story provides readers with the right amount of information, allowing them to easily understand the subtleties under the surface of Abelardo's relationship with his father. The mixed-media illustrations are dominated by ocean blues, creamy sun-dappled yellows, and the dignified dark gray whale. Gerstein explores light and shadow in the atmospheric and detailed images grounded in strong compositions and beautiful line work. The specific location remains unnamed; however Abelardo's Spanish name, the characters' brown skin, and the coastal setting point to a Latin American locale. According to the publisher's website, this story was inspired by a real-life video of a whale's rescue.
VERDICT This beautifully illustrated story with universal themes is a definite first purchase for libraries.

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