The Boy and the Whale


A boy and his father discover a whale tangled in their only fishing net. Is the whale dead? While the man worries about losing their net, the boy worries about the whale. He remembers the fear he felt when, caught in a net himself in childhood, he almost drowned before being rescued by his father. When the whale blinks an enormous eye, the boy knows that he has to try to save the creature, no matter how dangerous doing so may be.

Expressive and perfectly paced, this powerful story, The Boy and the Whale, by Caldecott Medal–winner Mordicai Gerstein was inspired in part by a real-life video of a whale’s rescue, and the creature’s joyful dance through the waves after being freed.--from the publisher

40 pages            978-1626725058         Ages 5-9


“Breathe, breathe in the air

Don’t be afraid to care

Leave but don’t leave me

Look around, choose your own ground

For long you live and high you fly

And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry

And all your touch and all you see

Is all your life will ever be”

-- Pink Floyd, “Breathe” (1973)

“Every day, I loved to watch the sun rise out of the sea. One morning I saw something in the water. Something big.

‘That’s a whale out there,’ said Papa. ‘It looks dead.’

We jumped into our panga for a closer look.

‘Oh no!’ yelled Papa. He cursed the whale with words I’d never heard him say. ‘It’s tangled in our net! Our only net! I hope we can save it!’

‘Save the whale, Papa?’

‘No, my son, save our net!’ The whale is dead.’

We dived into the water.

I had never been so close to an animal so huge. Wrapped by the net in a hopeless tangle, the whale must have died unable to move. I had been tangled in a net once, too. I almost drowned. Papa saved me.

The whale’s closed eye was as big as my head.

And then it blinked! And I had to...


So did the whale.

“Papa,’ I gasped. ‘The whale’s alive!’”

What makes us human? How should we live our lives? These universal themes are what I take away from this book. Is life to be played as a zero-sum game, a never-ending fight and scramble to dig holes and gather all we can into our own personal piles? Are we merely higher animal forms with endless biological needs, or is life more wondrous and complex than that?

I’ve had this book, THE BOY AND THE WHALE, kicking around for more than a year now. I’ve read and reread it a bunch of times, connecting with it each time because of the complicated father-son relationship.

The boy and his father return to shore. Leaving the whale for dead, and despondent over the potential loss of their livelihood, the father heads off to see his uncle about an old, unused fishing net in need of repair. He instructs the son Abelardo not to “do anything foolish.”

But, being an empathetic being with the experience of almost drowning in a net himself, Abelardo disobeys his father. He takes the little motorboat back out to sea and risks his life in order to slowly cut away the plastic netting trapping the whale. He successfully liberates the whale and, upon returning to shore, Abelardo's father begrudgingly commends him.

The realistic pen and ink and acrylic illustrations are punctuated by moments when Abelardo must surface in order to breathe. They capture the immensity of the majestic creature, bring us into the midst of the action, and remind us of both the joyous magic and unforgiving danger posed by the sea.

This is my kind of sea story.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

See more of his recommendations at:  Richie's Picks

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