Robert Burleigh, illus. by Wendell Minor


From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL starred review
“In 2005, an adult female humpback whale became caught in nets left by crab fishermen. This beautiful picture book vividly describes how divers cut through the ropes that held her in place, saving her life. The prose is spare yet captivating, without a single wasted word (“The struggle begins. The web of ropes cuts into her skin. She flails, starts to sink, fights for air.”). The gouache illustrations are exceptional and expertly complement the text. The final spread is particularly glorious, depicting the whale splashing away, her tail gleaming under the light of a starry sky and a full moon. An appended section includes more details about the actual event that inspired the book, information about whale rescue in general, and facts about humpbacks. Educators will also appreciate a page of extensive resources. This is an enchanting portrayal that demonstrates the positive impact that humans can have upon the natural world, and few readers will come away unaffected. VERDICT The inviting language, gorgeous images, and uplifting tone make this an excellent addition to any collection.”

“Trapped by over 20 ropes set by a crab-trapping boat, each over 200 feet long, a humpback whale struggles to stay alive.  This true story chronicling the daring rescue off the California coast by six scuba divers and three staffers from the Sausalito Marine Mammal Center on Dec. 11, 2005, is vividly portrayed by Minor’s eye-popping gouaches. The 50-ton whale explodes out of the waves and onto the pages. The combination of these beautiful paintings with Burleigh’s strong verb choices makes the opening scenes pulse with energy....”

From BOOKLIST starred review
In Minor's beautifully composed gouache paintings, the whale is a silent but enormously empathetic character. Several appended pages offer more information about the actual event, whale rescues in general, and humpback whales in particular. Adults reading the book aloud may want to introduce words such as spyhop, lobtail, fluke, and krill before beginning, to avoid breaking the cadence of the writing once the story is underway. Like the stately illustrations, the precise prose has a dignity that is worthy of its subject and unusual in a picture book for preschool and primary-grade children. While the episode of the whale's entrapment and release is short, it will linger in young listeners' minds long after the book is closed.

Burleigh writes in three-line passages that evoke the feeling of haiku (“The struggle begins./ The web of ropes cuts into her skin./ She flails, starts to sink,/ fights for air”), while Minor’s gouache paintings highlight the whale’s immensity, strength, and vulnerability as small human divers attempt to cut her free of the ropes binding her. Endnotes detailing the event that inspired the book, as well as information about humpbacks and the dangerousness of whale rescues, round out a quietly dramatic survival story.

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