Nonfiction Monday: The Blue Whale by Jenni Desmond
The Blue Whale
By Jenni Desmond
Enchanted Lion Books
Out May 27, 2015
There are things we know, but we don’t really know. Example: anyone from 2-200 can tell you that blue whales are big. Very very big. Got it. Often that’s as far as these things go. Got those blue whales figured out! While excellent nonfiction allows readers to learn something completely new, it also has the ability to make readers see something familiar with fresh eyes. The Blue Whale does exactly that. Jenni Desmond (Red Cat, Blue Cat) goes to great lengths to present the largest creature on earth in ways anyone can understand.
Once upon a time, a child took a book from a shelf and started to read.
He read that the blue whale is a mammal of gigantic size and strength. It is the largest living creature on our planet.
Amazing things can be rendered meaningless without context. The Blue Whale is full of concrete ways for kids to understand these massive beasts. How long is a blue whale? This long:
Some facts are presented simply: the pages dedicated to blue whale senses uses a full-scale illustration of one of the creature’s eyes, massive and glassy, staring back at the reader. The accompanying text points out that while blue whale vision is poor, another sense – hearing – is keen. Other spreads seek to illustrate the overwhelming. As the text explains that a blue whale calf drinks 50 gallons of milk every day, the illustration shows each and every gallon, making this incredible fact more tangible:
The same goes for the spread that illustrates the size of a blue whale’s mouth – large enough to hold 50 people:
The boy at the beginning of the book, the one who “took a book from the shelf and started to read”, plays an important role. The reader follows the boy through the pages of the book, learning right along him as he pops from his house to the middle of the ocean and back again. It’s a unique unifying element and one that works well here.
One noticeable absence is back matter, which has become very common in current children’s nonfiction. While I wish there was more in that area, a note at the beginning of the book recognizes the involvement of Diane Gendron, a consulting blue whale expert.
When nonfiction doesn’t use photographs, I’m always interested to see how the visuals hold up. Rich and bright, Desmond’s illustrations are a mixture of the childlike and the sophisticated (maybe the two are more closely related than we think). Plenty of placid blues wash over areas of bright white, making for a pleasing balance of positive and negative space.
When so much of the information in the book has to do with explaining the sheer size of blue whales, scale plays an important role. The comparisons to real-world objects work because they are presented in correct proportions.
You think you know blue whales. Poor thing. You have much to learn. Start with this book.
Review copy from the publisher.
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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