Karen Swann (text) and Padmacandra (illustrator), The Tale of the Whale, University of Queensland Press, March 2021, 32pp., RRP $31.40 (hbk), ISBN 9781912650491
The Tale of the Whale is a beautiful picture book by two first time picture book makers. The text is simple and delightful – using rhyme and rhythm with strong effect. A child spies a whale who invites her along on a journey. Together they travel the ocean, seeing turtles and rays, dolphins and seagulls (one even follows along on the journey). Then the whale takes a deep dive and reveals the beauty and mystery of the sea floor. Next, he leaps out of the water and they sail on to visit the creatures of the arctic waters. But when the whale’s tummy rumbles, and he takes a deep draft of the ocean the girl sees all of the rubbish which he swallows with it.
The middle spread of the book zooms in to the girl and whale eye to eye, set against his deep grey skin. This is a stark contrast to the blues and greens and golds of the rest of the book. But the girl is dressed brightly, and the close up expands her from a little thing, tossed and carried by the whale, to a full half page, clothed in a warning orange. There is so much in this one picture – eyes, mouths, tears, colour, and that gaze.
There follows a catalogue of sea animals: A turtle in trouble, a gull in distress, and the rest. The deep blue sea reflects the sad return to shore. Then the girl promises to tell the tale and to ask others to help.
The art in this book is beautiful throughout. There are lots of little and big things to discover in the pages on a second or third reading. The authors are British, and this is reflected in the illustrations in subtle ways. The cover is a beautiful spread featuring ice caps, polar bears and the whale himself stretching from cover to cover.
The author and illustrator websites are worth investigating. Padmacandra’s portfolio illustrations demonstrate a range of illustration styles, and Karen Swann has some fun craft activities to go with the book.
Reviewed by Marita Thomson