________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 4. . . September 29, 2017


Waiting For the Whales. (Orca Classics).

Sheryl McFarlane. Illustrated by Ron Lightburn.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 1991/2017.
32 pp., pbk., pdf & epub, $10.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-1368-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0473-9 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0474-6 (epub).

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

**** /4


Sometimes during the long winter months, they collected oysters or dug clams. And after each storm they gathered seaweed for the garden.

Other times, they walked in the woods.

The little girl learned each tree, each clearing each trail and where it led.

She learned where to find the best salal patches and where to gather watercress for soups.

She learned to look for fallen logs which could be sawed into firewood to keep the chill of winter from her grandfather’s old bones.

In the evenings, they watched the tugs with loaded barges inch down the coast. But it was the orcas that they waited for.


Waiting for the Whales, a multi-award winning (for both author and illustrator) picture book, was described as ‘timeless’ when originally published in 1991. Twenty-five years later, it lives up to that praise, remaining very much a story for today. The premise, setting, themes and illustrative style still inspire in this classic story written from the heart.

     An old man who now lives alone in the family home on a west coast island takes comfort from his garden and woods, but especially in the seasonal return of a pod of orcas. When his daughter arrives with a baby granddaughter, his predictable world is thrown off balance—but only temporarily. He soon delights in sharing his knowledge, drawing new energy from the child’s presence. By the time his health fails, the child is ready to carry on his activities, and after his death, sadly takes over the whale watch. A poignant surprise—a new orca calf—assures her that “grandfather’s spirit has gone to leap and swim with the whales.”

     The author’s first book for children shows sound storytelling skill. The simple but enduring intergenerational theme emerges from a quiet plot that will resonate with young families. The characters are nameless, fostering close identification and empathy. At times, the text holds layers of meaning in a few thoughtful words: for instance, the daughter arrives “unexpectedly. In one arm she held her bags, and in the other, a fat baby girl.” The reader is engaged by filling in the details from their personal experience. The circular nature of life reverberates in the repetitive language that describes activities (tilled, planted, weeded, watered) before and after the child arrives, and further after the grandfather dies. Awareness of the quality one’s life can have in tune with nature infuses the whole.

     The controlled style of the colored pencil illustrations is a perfect complement for the story, enhancing the mood changes with muted earth tones and soft outlines. The glow of sunset, the misty shore, the sun/shadow of the garden and winter beach all offer realism as well as room for imagination. In a final scene, the child wears her grandfather’s favorite hat, forever linking them in spirit.

     Be sure to add this gentle but captivating story to your picture book collection. Waiting for the Whales will remain a favorite to reread for generations to come.

Highly Recommended.

Gillian Richardson, a freelance writer, lives in BC.

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

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