Title: The Tale of the Whale
Author: Karen Swann
Publisher: University of Queensland Press – UQP
Publication date: May 4, 2021
Themes: climate, plastic pollution, sea life, friendship, making a difference and lyrical verse
Additional notable information: Teachers’ Notes can be downloaded from the UQP website.
The Tale of the Whale is a stunning literary and visual masterpiece by Karen Swann and illustrated by Padmacandra. Right from the moment the cover is opened the story begins on the endpapers. The title page is a visual treat as it is difficult not to be drawn to the illustration featuring a headland that resembles a whale in both colour and shape. This mesmerising, creative title page demands attention as it is filled with details that give clues about the setting of the story and highlights the different ways the local population interact with the ocean.
The gentle, lyrical narrative tells the story of a young child’s adventures with a whale and the beautiful connection they share as they explore the glorious depths of the ocean in all its colourful majesty. Their adventures are filled with awe as they behold the astonishing beauty to be found in the sea. Their travels result in the whale gaining a large appetite, so the whale opens its mouth and ingests “the soup of the ocean”, which is a stark contrast to the stunning vibrant colour and wonder that the child and whale had the privilege of experiencing together. Instead, this ocean soup is made up of the vulgar plastic waste that humans discard and ends up in the ocean.
The story highlights in a powerful and non-didactic way, the devastating impact the ocean soup has on the ocean life. The poetic, accessible narrative together with the multi-layered illustrations highlight the plight of several different animals, namely “a turtle in trouble, a gull in distress, a tightening collar, a shopping bag mess”. This plastic pollution awakens the child in the story to the effects of waste in the ocean and how it adversely affects the creatures who call the ocean their home. After being affected by these sights, the child is inspired and empowered to make a difference. The child, impassioned by their experiences, uses their voice to become an activist and encourage others in the community to change the situation. The child educates the community so the animals do not have a diet of plastic soup and the ocean can be a healthy environment for all animal and plant life that inhabit it.
This story lends itself to:
- Exploring visual literacy. There is so much to “read” in the illustrations on the endpapers, the title page and throughout the story. The different expressions on the child and whale reveal information about their connection. Children can observe this and explain how the illustrations support their observations. On the first few pages, when the whale approaches the child there are musical notes that seem to be coming from the whale and are positioned between the whale and the boy. There is much research about whales and why they “sing”, it has been said that whales sing to communicate, to send a message to other whales. Together with the text, consider why the musical notes have been included and the message the whale is trying to communicate. The boy and the whale have an animal companion that accompanies them for most of their journey and is shown in the illustrations. What animal is it and what limitations does this animal have exploring the ocean with the whale and child? How do the atmospheric illustrations showcase the ways in which the child and whale connect to the beauty and joy in the ocean landscape? The illustrations also highlight the interconnectedness between humans and the impact their actions have on the health of the oceans as well as the plants and animals that live there. What observations support this?
- Exploring poetic devices and ways in which the figurative language used contributes to the mood and meaning of the story. The Teachers’ Notes have excellent questions to discuss this.
- Engaging in important discussions about the devastating impact of plastic on ocean life.
- Helping children understand the problem of plastic in the ocean and consider solutions for this environmental issue. This story will no doubt be a call to action to inspire young readers to adopt sustainable practices and environmental responsibility.
This picture book will be a valuable addition to any book collection as it is a stunning celebration of the sea. It portrays the wonder and awe to be found in the oceans. It explores how individuals have the power to make a difference to protect and improve the ocean environment for the animal and plant life that live there so that the utter beauty can be enjoyed by future generations.