Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin




Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Delivered From Danger

Technology today affords us connectivity unlike anything we have ever experienced previously.  The deeds of a worthy hero can go viral within mere minutes.  Other times only the rescued and rescuer silently observe the events.

On a Sunday at 8:30 in the morning on December 11, 2005 a crab fisherman, eighteen miles off the shore of San Francisco in open water, noticed a humpback whale in serious distress.  It was tangled in crab trap ropes and pots.  The weight was making it almost impossible for the whale to successfully breath.  Trapped!  A Whale's Rescue (Charlesbridge, April 14, 2015) written by Robert Burleigh with paintings by Wendell Minor is a fascinating retelling of this true story.

The huge humpback whale dips and dives.  Her sleek black sides shimmering, she spyhops, lobtails, flashes her flukes.

On one of mammals' longest known migratory trips, she is making her way from the northern polar region along the California coast to more tropical waters.  She consumes massive amounts of krill in her daily diet.  This mighty queen of the ocean is free to perform her spectacular dance.

What she does not know is the lines attached to crab pots left by fisherman are in her path. (Each rope can be up to 240 feet long with traps weighing 90 pounds attached.)  Soon they are wrapped around her.  She cannot free herself. They are so tight, they cut into her body.  Her struggles leave her exhausted.

Still in the water a sound reaches her.  Boats with rescuers arrive.  The only way to save her is to risk their lives by diving next to her and cutting the ropes.  It may be too late already.  Nearly seven hours have passed since she was first sighted.

They cautiously begin to slice the lines.  Any movement she makes could kill one of them.  When the final rope falls away from her body, she does not swim away.  She circles her liberators.

No one can explain what she does next.  No one can know what she is thinking.  One by one each diver is nudged as if in gratitude.  It is unforgettable.


Through lyrical sentences Robert Burleigh brings readers full circle.  He begins with descriptions of the whale's beauty in moving above, through and below the water, easily giving us a sensory perception of her life.  As the ropes trap her, the tone created by his words darkens, causing us to feel her loss of freedom and her sense of despair.  With the arrival of the divers, a shift in his word choices allows us to comprehend the risk of her rescue.  His final three phrases clearly define her remarkable actions.  Here is another sample passage.

With each thrust of her tail, she tries.
Her sides heave.  She flops.  She flounders.
At last the great whale shudders and lies still.


In a stunning image extending across the open matching dust jacket and book case, Wendell Minor brings us immediately into the enormity of the situation.  His painting portrays with realistic and emotional accuracy.  A shade of the blue used in the text for the title becomes the background color for the opening and closing endpapers.  Beneath the words on the title page, Minor has painted a close-up of the whale's eye watching the diver cut away the rope caught in her mouth.  Across the two pages for the publication information and dedication, a fishing boat is off to the left as a whale tale breaches the ocean surface, water dripping and splashing.

All of the illustrations rendered in gouache span two pages edge to edge with the exception of four single pages framed in small white borders.  Minor's paintings breath as if alive; giving us sight, sound and smell.  We can see the grace, the majesty, of the whale's movements.  His altered perceptions give us a true sense of her size in comparison to the divers and boats.  We watch in wonder as she moves among the swimmers, finally free again.

One of my favorite illustrations is the final wordless spread.  A clear night sky filled with stars is shown for most of the two pages.  Beneath is a calm sea.  Just off to the right of the gutter a full moon glows.  In the center a whale emerges from the water fins outstretched.  Her body is outlined in luminescence.  A streak of light is painted across the sky as her left fin arches.  The beauty will make you gasp or sigh or both.


Trapped!  A Whale's Rescue written by Robert Burleigh with paintings by Wendell Minor is a stunning recreation.  Every bookshelf will want to hold a place for this blend of words and artwork which compose a beautiful nonfiction picture book.  At the close of the title are two pages of columns of information, Behind The Story, Rescuing Whales, More About Humpback Whales and Did You Know?  This is followed by a page of print and online resources.

To learn more about Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor and their work please follow the links attached to their names taking you to their websites. This link takes you to the publisher's website where you can view an interior image from the book.  This links to a discussion guide developed by the publisher.  Here is a link to a newspaper article in the SFGate (San Francisco).  Another resource for learning about humpback whales is these pages in ARKive.  This page from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife gives you an idea of the shape and size of the crab traps.  Scroll to the bottom for size and weight. Enjoy the whale song video.






Please be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to see what other participants have included in their 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge this week.


Here is a fun tweet from John Schumacher, teacher librarian extraordinaire who hosts Watch. Connect. Read.



14 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this book with us and for your great review.. I remember when this happened, and how painful it was to hear about this whale and the relief when it was freed. This sounds like a wonderful book about that experience and now I will definitely have to read it.

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    1. You are welcome, Alex. The whole story is one of those edge-of-your-seat tales. My eyes filled with tears when I read how she circled the divers and nudged each one. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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  2. This looks fantastic! Thanks for giving us an opportunity to win a copy!

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    1. It is fantastic Holly. And you are welcome!

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  3. Great post, Margie! My heart can hardly take such wrenching nature stories. I'm so glad this one had a happy, miraculous ending. ♥

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    1. Thank you Teresa! My heart hurts almost daily when I read about animals getting hurt but this ending is marvelous. ♥

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  4. You've made me want to run right out to buy this book, and then share with my students. It is an incredible story, especially that end. Thanks for all the links too. I appreciate the time you take with your reviews!

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    1. Hooray! I hope you are able to get it soon Linda. I know this is going to be a favorite with students. You are welcome about the links. It's a pleasure to provide whatever I can for my blog readers.

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  5. Oh my goodness, you had me at Wendell Minor - his art is just absolutely exquisite - and the way that you described the story, wow. I will have to find this one.

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    1. I hope you are able to get it soon Myra. It's one you will want to add to your personal collection. The paintings will take your breath away.

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  6. I loved this one - the combination of the text and the paintings. Thanks for sharing so much about this book.

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    1. I'm glad you love it too Alyson. And you are welcome. This book offers much for discussion.

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  7. I just bought this book Margie. Can't wait to share it with my class! It is truly wonderful - and your review, as always fantastic. Love the humpback whale song. So beautiful and soothing. I think I will share this with my students too. Thanks Margie!

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    1. I'm so glad you have a copy Carrie! I know your class is going to love it. I look forward to you writing about using it in class. Thank you for your kind words.

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