CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 4. . . September 29, 2017
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.
Gillian Richardson, a freelance writer, lives in BC.
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This Creative Commons license allows you to download the review and share it with others as long as you credit the CM Association. You cannot change the review in any way or use it commercially.
Commercial use is available through a contract with the CM Association. This Creative Commons license allows publishers whose works are being reviewed to download and share said CM reviews provided you credit the CM Association.