by Sarah Brennan, illustrated by Jane Tanner
Storm Whale is a captivating story of three brave sisters working together to rescue a stranded whale that they found while on holiday by the beach.
Author Sarah Brennan grew up in Tasmania and often saw whales washed up at her local beach as a child. She draws us into the setting of a blustery day with strong imagery - "And the seabirds wheeled and the salt sea spray
Made dots and dashes, black and grey".
Just as striking, Jane Tanner's stunning illustration shows the force of the wind as it bends the grass on the hillock and ravages the sisters' hair. From the very first double page spread, we could feel the goosebumps on our legs and our lungs filling up with cold gulps of air.
In a grim turn of events, they spot a whale stranded on the beach. Again, the words and illustration pull us in to the helpless eye of the great beast, “Waiting in silence to drift … or die.”
Without hesitating, the girls throw themselves into the rescue, splashing buckets of water on its great bulk while trying to move a leviathan a hundred times heavier than the three of them combined.
Rarely have I come across such a gripping low point in a children’s book so flawlessly executed. The verse did not try to disguise the desperation and anguish that these three young souls endured during their efforts. The wind had brought on the rain, which turned into a storm, leaving the girls up to their chest in increasingly choppy waters.
The illustrations are magnificent. In the depths of their despair, we see grief and torment on the face of angels. When the girls are finally forced to walk away and leave the whale roiling in the surf, we see its sorrowful eye peeking through the dark sleet.
There was nothing left to do but pray for the best, and as happens in stories, there is calm after the storm. The girls awaken the next morning as it "rose like a golden peach, glowing over the wide white beach." The radiance on their faces reassure us that a happy ending ensues.
Storm Whale is a triumph for its wonderful verse, lifelike illustration and the message that it brings. At the core of the plot is the whale, noble and colossal, yet vulnerable at times, needing the help and protection of humans. In a poignant touch, Jane acknowledges the work of Sea Shepherd in her dedication. But the heart of the matter is the love of a child, selfless and complete, giving their all to creatures in need.
I should probably explain that I read these books with a little girl of 2. In my own unabashedly biased opinion, a little girl is a wondrous thing. But three girls together linking arms, melding their voices in chatter and laughter, and sharing secrets in sisterhood is something to be gazed upon with a content and grateful heart.
My daughter - in the endearingly egocentric way that only toddlers can pull off - immediately identified with the characters in this book. And though she has no siblings of her own, she is lucky to have two darling playmates named Sophie and Alexi, and quickly branded them as the other two sisters in the story. Pouring over the pages, she sees herself and her companions on a courageous adventure to save the poor whale, frowning when the going gets tough and cheering when the whale makes it back home. It is a deeply satisfying tale for a 'scarred ol' mariner' like myself - I cannot even begin to imagine how such a story must make her little heart swell.
Storm Whale is published by Allen & Unwin.
Learn more about Sarah Brennan at http://sarahbrennanblog.com and Jane Tanner at www.janetanner.com.au.
Munchkin photos below!