Reviews /

The Tale of the Whale

Authored by Karen Swann
Illustrated by Padmacandra
Published by Scallywag Press

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The Tale of the Whale is a lyrical joy! ‘Where the land becomes sky, and the sky becomes sea, I first saw the whale…and the whale first saw me.’ From the offset, this story puts man and beast on an equal footing. The story is told from the perspective of the child, but it is the whale’s story. The opening is warm and beautiful, and serene. The sun is rising, and the ‘sweet-sounding song’ of the whale drifts on the breeze towards the girl who is perched on a lighthouse – a symbol of safety and a beacon of light. The whale invites the child into his world and takes her on a magical journey. The imagery in the early pages is playful and positive – the girl and whale share smiles and laughs. They ride on the ‘rocking-horse sea’ and dance with the dolphins.

The relationship between the girl and the whale is completely believable within the magical context. Although the whale communicates with humanistic qualities such as laughing and shrugging, he doesn’t speak, and the girl and creature understand each other completely. The emotions range from joy to sadness as the journey of wonderment turns to shock and despair. The close-up of the girl and whale eye to eye is so emotive, as the reader is prepared to see all kinds of sea creatures in trouble due to the careless disposal of plastic waste.

The illustrations are sublime – colourful yet muted in tone, the monoprint textures have both vibrancy and a softness that makes you want to keep turning the pages. The texture entices you to dive in and join the characters through ‘valleys of sand’ with ‘carpets of colour’. The design moves from framed illustrations to full-page and double-page spreads that bleed to the edges taking the reader from observer to full immersion in the world that has been created. It should come as no surprise to discover that Padmacandra follows a Buddhist life and has made a commitment to do everything ‘in the light of kindness and awareness, with the aim of waking up more and more to the truth of the interconnectedness of all life’. We can see this belief delivered through her art and the subject matter of this story.

The combination of the melodic text, imagery and emotion make a strong connection so that when the call to action is given at the end of the tale, and the reader is invited to help the girl make a difference, it is fully likely that the audience will be 100% on board.

The rhyming format of The Tale of the Whale makes it the perfect read-aloud. The subject matter is the ideal introduction to ocean pollution. It would sit well along with side titles such as Benji DaviesThe Storm Whale, The Tale of a Toothbrush: A Story of Plastic in Our Oceans by M G Leonard or The Brilliant Deep, the story of diver Ken Nedimyer. This doubly delicious debut from both author and illustrator shows great promise. I eagerly await their next collaboration.