Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Respect And Protect

The earth is filled with a vast amount of life and places most of us will never see.  If you stop to think about it, it's astonishing to consider how well plants, animals and habitats have adapted over the course of enormous amounts of time.  It's also important to note some have fared far better than others.  All you have to do is visit ARKive to understand the plight of many species.

Increasing our understanding and knowledge of creatures elevates our respect.  We protect what we respect.  The Blue Whale (Enchanted Lion Books, May 26, 2015) written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond is a gift for readers who love our oceans and the life residing there.

Once upon a time, a child took a book 
from a shelf and started to read.

This book in the hands of the child is the same book you hold in yours.  First the child reads of the size of the blue whale in relationship to other animals on our planet.  It is compared in length to things the child knows, modes of transportation on land and sea stretched out in a line.  The size of the whale's heart and the comparison is astounding.

Named for their skin color under water, each whale can be identified by their markings and dorsal fin.  Did you know diatoms attach themselves to the whale's underbelly causing it to change color?  Have you ever seen a pile of hippopotamuses?  You will be surprised to know how many stacked together equal the weight of a blue whale.  Only sea water can support something with the mass of a blue whale.

Of the five senses, sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch, it's unusual to discover which two are exceptional for a blue whale.  I'll bet you can name one but not the other.  The mouth of the whale and the contents are equally impressive; the number of baleen plates, the weight of the tongue and how many people can fit inside the mouth.  Wow!  The amount of krill eaten and how it is eaten is mind-blowing as is the small amount which can be swallowed.  The color of the consumed krill is the color of the whale's poo.

It's a good thing we don't have to buy the gallons of milk a baby blue whale drinks in a day.  This helps the calf to gain as much as nine pounds in an hour.  With lifespans near the same as ours scientists have used more than one method to figure out their age.

Breathing is done above the surface through two blowholes but they and their relatives get the prize for holding their breath the longest under water.  The flukes on their tails and fins help them to move with ease under and above the oceans.  The sounds created and heard by blue whales are essential to staying connected with one another and finding their way from place to place.

Their habitat is the oceans of the world.  As they cruise the waters they cannot afford to fall sound asleep but take quick snoozes to avoid drowning.  To see such beauty...

The technique of having us read the same thing as the child brings us into the narrative immediately.  Jenni Desmond shares a wealth of information but the comparisons to everyday things she uses are easily understood by the intended audience.   One topic flows into another with excellence.  Vocabulary new to readers will promote wonderful discussions and exploration. Here is a sample passage.

To eat, the blue whale takes a giant gulp of seawater and krill.  It takes so much water into its mouth that the ventral pleats below its jaw and belly expand, like a huge accordion.
When the blue whale is ready to swallow, it pushes all of the seawater back out of its mouth with its tongue through its bristly baleen plates.

The image you see at the beginning of this post is the opened matching dust jacket and book case.  It introduces us to the blue whale as well as the child.  Wearing a crown of red throughout the book we can see he is observing the whale in real time at this point.  The opening and closing endpapers are a much deeper shade of blue with two faded outlines of whales swimming.  The small boat is moving along nearby the two. On a background of white beneath the title text, the boy is reading this book while sitting on his bed.

Rendered first by hand and scanned into her computer for refining, Jenni Desmond made nineteen beautiful double-page pictures.  Not only does she shift her perspective (the boy skipping down the stairs from his bedroom to grab a snack and an extreme close-up of the blue whale eye) she moves the child from his home to the ocean and back again and then back to the ocean. It's more than reading a book about whales, we get to experience it.

Extreme care is given to details.  During a particular discussion about an item we might see those things mentioned as framed pictures on a wall.  The people inside the whale's mouth represent people everywhere.  The boys standing on each other's shoulders to measure the height of the whale's air are seen again after a page turn in miniature as the viewpoint is more panoramic.

One of my favorite illustrations is of the boy skipping down the stairs.  He is exhibiting the exact amount of happiness you will already feel reading this book.  Along the stairwell are four (a fifth is a partial) framed pictures, a blue whale, a close-up of their skin, diatoms and hand prints.  The boy is carrying the book and clearly animated.

Guaranteed to produce exclamations from readers at the range of information and the manner in which it is presented, The Blue Whale written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond is simply superb nonfiction.  The magnificence of this creature is marvelous to behold within these pages.  Readers like the child will be dreaming of a close encounter with a blue whale.  There is an Author's Note at the beginning and thanks is given to a named whale expert

for her expertise on blue whales and her passionate and exacting commitment to this book.

I would pair this with Trapped!:  A Whale's Rescue and Whale Trails:  Before And Now.

To learn more about author illustrator Jenni Desmond please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and her blog.  At her website you can view more images from this book.  Jenni Desmond is interviewed at This Picture Book Life and Magpie That.  Both sites display illustrations.  For more information about the blue whale you can try the National Geographic or The Marine Mammal Center websites.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the other titles featured this week by bloggers participating in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. I so loved this book Margie! And agree, pairing it with Trapped is a great idea. I have a thing for whale books so of course, I had to purchase this one!

    1. I can't begin to tell you the number of times I gasped at the information I read here. I love her comparisons. It makes the size more easily understood. I can understand why you had to own a copy.

  2. I have to find this book! The book cover is gorgeous.

    1. You do need to find it Myra. The entire book is as lovely as the cover.