Apr 4, 2021

Earth Day? A Single Day? Even a Weekend? No Way!

 I'll repeat something I've included in many prior posts: I am seriously ambivalent about the value of THEME MONTHS or "Designated Days". April 20-22, 2021, are the official EARTH DAY/weekend and signal global action to raise awareness and sponsor actual efforts to improve/protect our Earth. As i write these words, a stack of picture books related to this theme is at my side, and I will celebrate them in coming days, along with poetry books, since this is also POETRY MONTH, (the 25th anniversary of that designation), among other overlapping themes. 

Today, though, I feature a single picture book that combines tragic warnings with a celebration of our potential to redirect the outcome of our planet. That change begins with awareness.

If our eyes have not yet opened to the reality that planet EARTH is on a course to disaster, there is an enormous need for more attention to actual, verifiable news. For example, if you are generally aware that whales are threatened, but not clear about the dangers to and status of particular species, check out these updates on Atlantic Right Whales, HERE, HERE, and HERE

Blue Dot Press, April, 2021

The release this month of WELCOME HOME, WHALES, written and illustrated by Christina Booth, is timed to provide a deeply emotional and gorgeous embrace of the present and the past lives of Atlantic Right Whales. It is also a warmhearted story about a sensitive boy (although the art is wonderfully open to interpretation of that gender) whose inner radar senses the presence, and past, of a welcome visitor. Using dreamy and fluid tones and lines the author/illustrator combines ethereal images of whaling history and practices that brought Atlantic Right Whales to the brink of extinction. Within those swirling pages are  dramatic images of the intelligent life of an ocean creature who carries a genetic memory of the damage done to her species. 

The child imagines the whale's message in actual dialogue. Whale's minimal communication and questions present a challenge to the listener/reader. There is awareness that the child is not personally responsible and yet together we experience a sense of human accountability for the harm done in the past. In the course of this very gentle but powerful encounter, the surrounding community gradually recognizes the reality of and importance of the return of this whale and her calf. 

To understand a broader significance to the situation portrayed, take a few minutes to listen to this piece on NPR about environmental observers have spotted Right Whales in their traditional south Atlantic coastal breeding grounds with calves after their extended absence. An even more recent piece about these developments can be heard HERE. 

Within the swirling, dreamy illustrations are accurate depictions of the boy's perceived whale, including characteristic crusty white patches on the skin, called callosities. The whale's images  include the "V"-shaped spray of its spray (tail), its relative size, behaviors, and calving patterns. A double spread in back matter incorporates scientific details about the three species of Right Whales, their feeding patterns, a habitat map, and more.The final page includes resources and suggestions for more information as well as ideas for things that even young people can to do help support the recovery of this species.

There are many reasons I love this book, including the bottom line: It is gorgeous in text and illustration with a theme that is not timely and timeless. In addition, it offers reliable and current information about this seriously endangered species with emotional power while not fantasizing or trivializing the reality of our global environmental dangers. It has enormous potential for use with learners, in science, social studies, and also as mentor text for writing.

Here's hoping it makes its way into your lives and the lives of young people you know, and not just during a theme month or weekend. Children should not be saddled with undoing the harm of past generations, but the fact is that they are our greatest hope of restoring ecological balance on this amazing planet. Books like this one can provide life-changing experiences.

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