Individuals who are avid fishermen and fisherwomen for sport or livelihood all have an one-that-got-away tale. They remember the exact date and time of day. They can tell you if the water was like glass, rippling, choppy or rocky with waves. They remember if the air felt cool or hot on their faces, or if they could smell smoke from burning campfires, rain on the way or salt, lots of salt. If birds were calling, they can still hear that sound. If the sky was awash in the colors of sunrise or sunset, crystal blue or gray with clouds, they can see it in every detail. These people can bring you back into those experienced moments.
The voice of a fictional character Ishmael, a crew member aboard the ship, Pequod, led by Captain Ahab, in the book Moby-Dick by Herman Melville revolves around the pursuit of a huge white whale that cannot be caught and killed. This is an epic one-that-got-away story of adventure. Mighty Moby (Little, Brown And Company, August 1, 2017) presented to readers by author Barbara DaCosta and illustrator Ed Young is inspired by this classic piece of American literature.
"Three long years we've been at sea,
Homeward bound we want to be,
A-sailing, sailing, a-sailing-oh..."
Though home is where these whalers want to be, their captain seeks revenge. He will not stop until they sight the monstrous whale. The words ring out
"There she blows!"
The captain shouts out in determination at his enemy. He urges his men to get in the boats. They must rid the ocean of this menace. They row quickly and quietly to position themselves near the beast.
A harpoon flies through the air. Will the captain strike a deadly blow? The harpoon holds with the whale dragging the boat, leaping up and then, down...down...down. The men in the other boats wait in fear.
A mountain of water erupts as the gigantic whale rises from the deep. WAIT! The story has to continue! Perhaps it will progress or start over again with a slight shift in the plot. Nevertheless another captain has spoken and a crew member responds in agreement and with respect.
Taking actual words from Moby-Dick with the exception of one (We are challenged to guess that one word.), Barbara DaCosta wrote this text employing several writing techniques found in the original classic. The phrases in italics at the beginning and end of the story can be sung like sea chanteys or ballads. This gives the excursion, the mission of vengeance, authenticity.
Using a blend of dialogue and narrative the sentences string together elevating the tension. We feel the whalers' worry, the captain's anger and the whale's determination to thwart its predator again. This is a marvelous prelude to the surprising twist at the end. Here is a sample passage.
"Shh! There he is," the captain whispered.
Hold steady now---"
You can feel your pulse quicken when you look at the unfolded dust jacket. The color palette of black and hues of red continues to the edges of the flaps. The print is in red. The outrage of the whale is evident as it climbs to the surface of the ocean. To the left, on the back, an outline of a ship in trouble is almost glowing among the flaming color. The book case is awash in the same shades. On the front the perspective of the whale is closer with the ship superimposed on the back portion near the tail.
The opening and closing endpapers in tones of cream and tan looks like swirls of water. In the upper right-hand corner the ship hangs, almost in balance. Stretching across the verso and title pages the body of the whale provides a background for the text. With a page turn we see a black canvas with three sailors dancing and singing the three opening lines.
Ed Young's cut-paper collage is stunning. Each image spans two pages. When the whale is sighted and the peg-legged captain shouts out his warning, you can actually feel the movement of the ship on the waves. With ease and great skill Ed Young moves from a close point-of-view of the whalers getting in the boats with harpoons and ropes to a majestic scene of the whale on the expanse of sea with moonlight glittering on the water. The small boats and men are moving in close to it.
One of my favorite of several illustrations is when the whale dives into the ocean with the harpoon, rope and the captain trailing behind. It is one of six vertical pictures. In the upper left-hand corner the small captain (in comparison to the whale) is clinging to the rope. Amid a blend of greens and blacks, water and kelp, the whale dives. All we see is the enormous red tail and lower portion of the body.
With each page turn of this book, the art and words will have you either reading silently in awe or gasping aloud in appreciation. The superb pacing employed by Barbara DaCosta and Ed Young in Mighty Moby is astounding making the conclusion simply the best. I encourage you to get a copy for your professional bookshelves and one for your personal collections, too.
To discover more about both Barbara DaCosta and Ed Young and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. A website for this title can be found here. It has information about the process, news and reviews, resources, FAQ section and contact information. Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson highlights this title at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Ed Young visits All The Wonders, Episode 318 podcast with teacher librarian Matthew Winner.