________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 15. . . .December 16, 2017


Abigail the Whale.

Davide Cali. Illustrated by Sonja Bougaeva. Translated by Karen Li.
Toronto, ON: Owlkids Books, 2016.
32 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
ISBN 978-1-77147-198-5.

Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.

Review by Harriet Zaidman.

*** /4



Abigail always tried to be last in line, because she knew that when she dived in, she would make an enormous wave, and everyone would shout,



A child’s insecurities can have a significant effect on his or her self-esteem and abilities to succeed both socially and academically. Income levels, the right gadgets, – these are important factors in whether or not a child feels motivated to participate and try harder. A child’s weight and how he or she looks in comparison to others is also a daily issue. Taunting and bullying make matters worse, often resulting in the development of mental health problems that can be lasting.

internal art     How to make a chubby child feel happy? How to motivate that child to engage in healthy activities where he or she feels most insecure? In Davide Cali’s picture book, first published in France in 2009 under the title Marlene Baleine, Abigail’s swimming teacher sees she is unhappy and plants positive ideas in her head:

“We are what we think,” her teacher said. “If you want to swim well, you have to think light. Do you suppose birds or fish think they’re too heavy? Of course not!”

internal art     Abigail follows his advice over the next week and develops a new perspective that helps her in everything she does, from falling asleep quickly at night to clearing hurdles in gym class and getting needles without wincing. To her surprise, the next time she goes swimming, she executes a perfect dive – no splash or waves. She just had to realize she could do it. Her sunny outlook shows, and Abigail unexpectedly attracts the attention of a classmate!

     Sonja Bougaeva’s bright illustrations show a round little Abigail caught in her dilemma, the butt of the other kids’ jokes. But Bougaeva takes Abigail on a dream journey – an icy shower becomes an inviting tropical waterfall, she becomes a brave giant on a scary walk home, etc. Most of all, Bourgaeva depicts Abigail as a child who has learned to embrace herself and have fun, to the delight of her teacher and the kids at the pool.

     Swiss-born Italian Davide Cali is the author of more than 40 children’s books, novels, graphic novels and play adaptations. His works are published in several languages – French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, German and English. Although only one of his works, Mama Robot, is reviewed in CM , his other books are available in Canada. Cali is noted for his unique treatment of topics that invite a child to consider sophisticated ideas, as he does in The Enemy: A Book About Peace in which enemy soldiers on a battlefield realize they have more in common than they first thought. Simply written, sparsely but humorously illustrated by Serge Bloch, it shows the human face of war.

     Abigail the Whale would be a useful book to address the issues of self-esteem, acceptance and bullying. Cali teaches a lesson with a drop of fun that will leave all children (and adults) wiser and smiling.


Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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