‘If You Want to See a Whale,’ by Julie Fogliano and Erin E. Stead

July 2, 2013

The word “see” is the key to this minimalist tale whose poetic text seems, on the surface at least, to be simultaneously elusive and precise: “If you want to see a whale/ you will need a window/ and an ocean/ and time for waiting/ and time for looking/ and time for wondering ‘is that a whale?’ ” To find a picture book that attempts to explore the patient, persistent and solitary pursuit at the heart of creativity is unusual; to find one that succeeds in making such an abstract process comprehensible to children is extraordinary. On the cover, a lone figure rows his yellow dinghy across a pale green sea. The placement of the boat and its occupant near the top of the page is important because the watery world across which he skims is unbroken and fearsomely deep. On the back cover, a great blue whale cavorts, seeming to stand upright on its tail, filling the sea-green page almost to its limits. Between these two covers is a journey from longing to fulfillment, buoyed by gentle advice: Your chair should be of the “not-so-comfy” variety; you must not be distracted by roses “and all their pink/ and all their sweet/ and all their wild and waving”; nor will pirates or pelicans be of any real assistance. In fact, “if you want to see a whale/ keep both eyes on the sea/ and wait . . ./ and wait . . ./ and wait. . . .” The author-illustrator team responsible for the bestselling “And Then It’s Spring” has again produced something truly unique, melding a hypnotic text with translucent, light-filled illustrations that invite young readers to climb aboard, row diligently, keep looking and experience the wonder of the journey for themselves.

— Kristi Elle Jemtegaard

IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE

By Julie Fogliano

Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Roaring Brook. $16.99. Ages 4-8

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