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Kids Picture Book Review – The Heart of a Whale

THE HEART OF A WHALE

Written and illustrated by Anna Pignataro

(Philomel Books; $17.99; Ages 3-7)

 

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Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal

Whale sang a song of happiness and hope, day after day, night after night for his ocean friends. But even with the roaring waves above him, Whale thought how quiet and lonely the sea could be in award-winning and best-selling author and illustrator Anna Pignataro’s lyrical picture book The Heart of A Whale.

 

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Interior spread from The Heart of a Whale written and illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Philomel Books ©2020.

 

Gorgeous watercolor illustrations of blues and greens take the reader through the ocean floor as Whale sings “a cheerful symphony for a sad urchin,” and “an orchestra for a ballet of ocean flowers.” Yet as he buoys spirits, bringing magic and wonder to the other sea creatures, Whale wonders why he has no song to fill his empty heart.

 

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Interior spread from The Heart of a Whale written and illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Philomel Books ©2020.

 

Whale sings while swimming through “the seagrass taller than the forest and through the wild and tangled undergrowth.” But even with all the sea creatures and sounds around him he feels “how quiet the sea could be at times.” Pignataro illustrates Whale curled up in a fetal position with only the blue ocean by his side. The reader feels the sadness Whale is holding deep inside, even if on the outside he is surrounded by millions of sea creatures. But as he lies alone he lets out a sigh.

“His sigh drifted away like a wish,” and Pignataro’s illustrations change to a sea of big fish and small fish in varied shapes and sizes gathering together for Whale. The sigh passes “over dreaming turtles and forgotten treasures and reaches other whales in the sea “all the way to the whale with the empty heart.” Pignataro touches the reader further by illustrating the pink heart alone in the whale.

 

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Interior spread from The Heart of a Whale written and illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Philomel Books ©2020.

 

The tender wordless spread of Whale meeting another whale while smiling at each other brings optimism. Following an eager page turn, the next page spread reveals the two whales together singing about “happiness and hope, magic and wonder” and the reader knows Whale’s heart is full.

 

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Interior spread from The Heart of a Whale written and illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Philomel Books ©2020.

 

This sweet book of friendship and kindness is a great read for both parents and teachers. It introduces young kids to the importance of empathy, and how we should remember that even if someone looks happy on the outside they may feel lonely on the inside. Children can never hear the message enough of how we must all look out for each other. Pignataro’s poetic language and lush illustrations invite discussion between adults and children on the importance of listening, and understanding the emotions of others, a social emotional lesson one is never too young to learn. This book belongs on every preschool and kindergarten classroom bookshelf, and would be helpful in some higher grade classrooms as well.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Click here to read another review by Ronda.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

 

THE RABBIT LISTENED
Written and illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld
(Dial BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

Cover image from The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

THE RABBIT LISTENED by Cori Doerrfeld is a book that, as a preschool teacher, I want to thrust into parents’ hands to read over and over again with their preschool/TK/Kinder children. Quick to the point, with language that works around a universal issue that children (and adults) must handle, while not talking down to the intended audience.

Emotional intelligence, empathy, the very things we need so much in this world, resonate loudly and clearly in this gorgeous story. Doerrfeld’s illustrations are touching and relatable throughout each character’s struggle to cope with the problem at hand.

 

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Interior spread from The Rabbit Listened, written and illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld, Dial Book BYR, ©2018.

 

The young protagonist, Taylor, has built something from his imagination that took no little skill to master with his hands. He’s worked so hard on his block creation, only to have it knocked down in a rubble of despair and lost hope. His animal friends want to help. They want to fix, throw away, remind him of better creations yet to come. Taylor, however, doesn’t need this. The animals all walk away, frustrated by their inability to help him, missing an opportunity to connect with his pain.

Then rabbit hops over. Rabbit is quiet. Rabbit listens. Rabbit doesn’t tell Taylor how or when or why he should get over his loss. Rabbit is there, and stays with the boy throughout his processing of an event gone wrong. And when the young protagonist is ready to rebuild again, rabbit is there to support him.

 

Int image of Taylor and Rabbit from The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld ©2018.
Interior spread from The Rabbit Listened, written and illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld, Dial Book BYR, ©2018.

 

How often do we seek comfort from someone and get the opposite from a well meaning heart? Sometimes we simply need to be allowed our feelings, our disappointment and ill thoughts. Then, and only then, when we are ready, can we consider beginning again.

I recommend this book highly for anyone who struggles to help a child cope when they are just not READY for all the suggestions on how to move forward.

Give them the time and space.

Give them permission to vent.

Support them when they are ready to build again. And always listen.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

 

 

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Lend a Hand by John Frank with illustrations by London Ladd

LEND A HAND:
Poems about Giving
Written by John Frank
Illustrated by London Ladd
(Lee & Low Books; $17.95, Ages 4-10)

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During National Poetry Month I’ll be reviewing a bunch of my recent faves. Lend a Hand by John Frank with illustrations by London Ladd is one of them. With its 14 poems about kindness, caring and volunteering, this beautiful picture book is heartwarming and inspiring. I can’t think of a child, parent, teacher or caregiver who wouldn’t enjoy having Lend a Hand to return to again and again

The opening poem called Sandwich is touching and brings a smile to my face each time I read it. It’s about a a young girl who shares half her sandwich with “the new kid sitting alone with only the words of a book to feed her.” I hope that if my kids were in this situation they would be as thoughtful. I am also encouraged that other children reading or being read this poem will look at that new student sitting by themselves in their school cafeteria, perhaps without a lunch of their own, with a new paradigm in place.

There’s a short, but sweet poem called Puppy about the selfless act of raising a service dog who’ll be “someone’s eyes one day” that is moving in its simplicity. The one below, called Jammin’ really struck a chord with me because it highlights a coming together of generations that I feel is so important for youngsters to see. I can actually picture one of my son’s friends doing the exact thing this lad does, stopping by to jam with a much older, possibly lonely, fellow musician.

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Interior spread from Lend a Hand by John Frank with illustrations by London Ladd, Lew & Low Books, ©2014.

 

In Home Run, a klutzy kid in PE is given a few winning baseball pointers by a more experienced classmate who takes the time to help when another student might not necessarily care. Song, with its hopeful message about the music from a student choir reaching into the soul of a wheelchair bound nursing home resident, brings tears to my eyes. And No Charge, about passing a kindness forward after one’s been done to you should impress upon youngsters that some of the best rewards are not financial.

One of the most catchy poems is Bus Ride with a rhythm and beat matching the music the narrator is listening to through his earphones. This poem, a most ideal read-aloud, demonstrates how we can all be considerate by giving up a seat on a crowded bus to someone who needs it more than we do. But it’s really teaching empathy, helping children to realize that every situation is not always just about them. Rather than avert his eyes so he can continue to selfishly occupy a seat that a man with a cane could use, the narrator explains that he deliberately catches the older man’s eye and motions “toward the empty seat” once he’s gotten up. I wish I saw this type of behavior more often on public transportation which is why I felt this poem provided a great example for kids. Frank has put together a meaningful collection of poems populated by diverse individuals and covering timeless themes that will resonate with readers and be a jumping off point for countless conversations about giving. Our kids are never too young to begin learning the importance of empathy and how, in this big, busy world of ours, taking the time to stop and think about someone else can have a powerful, positive and lasting effect.

London Ladd’s acrylic and pastel illustrations are spirited and full of emotion. He explains in the end pages how he works “from photographs” and uses “ordinary people, not professional models, as references for the illustrations.” I loved finding that out because it makes the illustrations feel more real and every moment captured more tender.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a shareable infographic from Lend a Hand about how to make a difference.

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