Review of The Eye of the Whale by Jennifer O’Connell

In Animal Behavior, Book Reviews, Children's Books, Oceans by Anna Monders

Anna Monders

Anna Monders booktalks her way through elementary and middle schools as part of the Jackson County Library's outreach program.

eye-of-the-whale cover

A humpback whale is tangled in hundreds of yards of crab-trap lines. She can’t get free. She can barely keep her blowhole above water to breathe. The whale has been spotted by a fisherman, but will the rescue team be able to free her? Will they even arrive in time?

Based on an actual event that occurred in 2005, The Eye of the Whale tells the story a whale rescue effort that took place eighteen miles off the coast of San Francisco. Author/illustrator Jennifer O’Connell brings the story to life for young audiences. Her picture book has rich illustrations and just enough—but not too many—words. The publisher is marketing the title for grades 1-5, but it could be appropriate as a read-aloud for somewhat younger children.

Dive master James has never been close to a whale before. When he dives near, he sees that dozens of ropes are cutting into the whale’s skin. She is trapped. James knows that a whale’s tail is dangerous, but the only way to get her free is to swim near and cut through all the lines.

As the divers work, the whale watches and keeps still. She seems to understand what is going on. When the final rope is cut and the whale is free, the animal nudges the divers and looks at them before disappearing into the sea.

This book captures the wonder that the divers experienced in their interactions with the whale. Without being preachy, the story shows how human activities—crab fishing, in this case—can have a dangerous impact on sea creatures. The book’s back matter presents strong additional details about the historical event that inspired the story, but only briefly lists continued threats to whale populations. A five-page teacher guide is available on the publisher’s website (www.tilburyhouse.com). Along with discussion questions and related activities, this resource presents more information about humpback whales and discusses research on the emotional capacity of whales.

It’s a beautiful book.