Written by Karen Yin
Illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff
(Barefoot Books; $19.99, Ages 3-6)
Karen Yin’s debut picture book is truly original, packed with rollicking rhyme, and an important story presented in bold vibrant art from Nelleke Verhoeff. In other words, it’s got all the things a young reader would want in a read-aloud! And then some (100 some to be exact!)
From my first glimpse of the cover, with its beautiful, shiny raised letters along with lots of yellow—which always pulls me in—I was hooked by the look of Whole Whale. Then I dove in and was not disappointed. In fact, I was overjoyed that Yin chose to write this story about tolerance, inclusion, and making room at the table for everyone. We can never have too many picture books out there modeling for kids the benefits of working together to make those who may feel left out, how to be welcomed in. The best part is there is nothing didactic about the presentation. The humor and art provide the way into the story and the suspense keeps young readers engaged and turning the pages.
The premise is a surprisingly simple one starting with the title page depicting a hint of water rising from an as yet unseen whale’s spout. Then comes an almost completely white opening spread with only a sheep, a cat and a spider telling readers what to expect. “An empty page? It’s time to play!/The animals are on their way.” This is followed in the next spread with “One hundred might fit in this tale,” then the especially catchy refrain, “But can we fit a whole blue whale?” Here young readers will spy a different tail (or fluke).
Little by little a bevy of brightly colored beasts fill up the pages of this larger—12×12—formatted book. Kids can spot some animals showing concern on their faces, others enjoying the company. The group, whimsically illustrated by Verhoeff, continues to grow and grow with the refrain repeated for kids to shout out loud. But with so many crowding in to make room for the whale, will chaos or bullying ensue? “So, if they all can get along/One hundred might fit in this throng.”
Kids’ll adore the interaction Verhoeff has depicted amongst the animals as they attempt to make space for Whale. Yin has played with language wonderfully throughout and introduces fun words like throng and unveil as well as a few collective nouns for animals. A big reward is in store for staying the course, a double gatefold four feet long at the end.
While I don’t recommend this book for bedtime, I absolutely recommend it for ALL other times of the day! In fact, I encourage any adult reading it with a child to suggest they bellow out the refrain as they wait in giddy anticipation. Back matter lists the 100 animals in the book, a search-and-count challenge children are certain to accept. I hope you enjoy the WHOLE book as much as I did!
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