This is one of those nonfiction books whose facts somehow make me cry. It’s partly the set up in the author’s note that blue whales are few in number due to human activity, from hunting to pollution. But it’s not just that. It’s the way this material is handled—from how the text is constructed to the dreamy illustrations.
(click image(s) to enlarge)
Part of Jenni Desmond‘s originality is how the story appears in the story of the picture book. The boy in the book is reading the very book we’re reading.
But there’s more! He enters the book. There he is, in a dinghy next to a mighty blue whale, staring down in wonder. Because this book is immersive. Immersive in the azure world of the blue whale.
The boy with the red crown is excited about this book he’s reading, excited about blue whales, excited about animals and habitats.
“Every blue whale has unique markings, similar to our fingerprints. Scientists use these, along with the shape of the dorsal fin, to identify individual whales.”
Together with the boy, we learn that baby calves are born 20 feet long and drink nearly 50 gallons of their mother’s milk every day. That whales have a lot of wax in their ear canals. That a single one of their breaths could inflate 2,000 balloons.
Along with the boy, we feel the world open up. It gets bigger and the blue whale gets smaller. Closer. More precious to us.
“A blue whale’s tongue weighs three tons, and its mouth is so big that 50 people can stand inside it. Fortunately, blue whales don’t eat people.”
And that’s how this book works. It brings the boy character inside it, it brings us inside it and conversely it brings the blue whale into our world, right outside our window and in our kitchen.
It’s the perfect kind of nonfiction book that educates while it enchants. It makes us care.
Thanks to Enchanted Lion Books for images!
Jenni Desmond was kind enough to answer a couple of questions about her process of making the book!
This Picture Book Life:What prompted you to write a book about this particular animal?
Jenni Desmond: I didn’t choose a blue whale on purpose, it chose me, by just falling out of my head onto the page one day. Then, the more I drew this beautiful mammal the more I fell in love with it. There is still so much we don’t know about blue whales. I just found them endlessly fascinating and beautiful, and kept wanting to know more. When I showed the rough sketches to my wonderful editor, Claudia, at Enchanted Lion Books, she understood my vision for the book and tirelessly helped me to sculpt it into something much more complex and interesting.
TPBL: You include the book itself in the text and illustrations. How did the idea to do that come about?
JD: I wanted the reader to be aware of the fictional element of the story versus the factual. By having the young boy holding and reading the book, I felt that it would mean that there was a clear divide between the two. The facts could stay as facts, and the reader knew that the inclusion of the boy in the images, when he was interacting with the whale, was purely a result of the boy’s vivid imagination.
TPBL: Boy with red graph paper crown. Go!
JD: I think sometimes non-fiction can feel quite dense and difficult, so I hope that by including the boy, the reader can have a little bit of respite to digest the information while they watch the boy having fun, hopefully even seeing themselves in the boy. I‘m not sure why he’s wearing a crown. Why not. Maybe he’s the king of the book. Maybe he likes dressing up. Maybe it’s just a nice shape and gives a splash of colour to the page. Maybe it’s all of these things.
Thank you, Jenni, both for the interview and for this outstanding book!