Sep 16, 2021

A WHALE of a New Picture Book: WHOLE WHALE

 You've never met a child whose classroom experience involved  a daily "counting to one hundred" activity, or celebrated 100th DAY by preparing a collection of "one hundred somethings"? If not, I feel safe in betting that you've never met a child who goes to school. In fact, if you click above, you'll find more than a hundred Pinterest ideas/images that have been used for these activities  Or, just do an online search for 100th Day celebrations to find links for even more ideas, including links to this practice in other countries, cultures, and continents. 

Barefoot Books, 2021

That's why I'm expecting to hear global cheers for this new picture book, WHOLE WHALE, with words by Karen Yin and Illustrations by Nelleke Verhoeff. The premise of this oversized, colorful, animated (by active scenes and by an increasing array of animals), story far exceeds a simple number/concept book. 

Opening with the inviting expanse of a nearly bare, shiny-white, double spread, a few animals recognize a wonderful place to gather and play. Could they fit one hundred, even in such a massive space? The next pageturn challenges that- surely not a whole blue whale? Each successive turn adds a few rhymed lines in which types of animals are named and pictured. Some are familiar, many are not. Each is portrayed with cheeky-to-charming expressions, oddly-scaled sizes, in part and in whole, continually returning to that challenge- a WHOLE WHALE? Not likely!

That descriptor is, of course, important. Some arrive with evidence, but not "whole": scales, hoofs, etc. But a WHALE? A WHOLE WHALE would be entirely impossible, wouldn't it?

The rhymed text remains tightly-metered and story-propelling while incorporating quality vocabulary, less familiar animal species, and specifics such as  collective nouns: "a pod, a pack, a pride, a prowl". They come and go around and among pages, in full voice: "Just listen to them howl and growl."  

Mid-book, the question naturally arises- even if they could fit a WHOLE WHALE, could they all get along? With pleas to stop crowding, the essential line arrives on a very crowded page:

"When  everybody makes some space,

One more can always find a place."

I loved that the underlying theme of this book is as rich and dense as the language itself. The push is on by the assembled menagerie, not to eliminate or separate anyone, but to literally MAKE SOME SPACE, resulting in a double-gatefold that allows these large, glossy pages to unfold to arms' width- and more. Wide enough to allow a WHOLE BLUE WHALE to join them all as the one-hundredth  animal! A challenge is included on that last line, for little (and BIG) readers to find and count all one hundred, adding a final page turn that offers an illustratedl/numbered account of the full one hundred animals.

With ONE HUNDRED DAY experiences being ubiquitous, it's safe to assume that there are a vast number of picture books that focus on counting to one hundred. (Likely, there are more than a hundred titles, of  varying quality, but I didn't search or count.) I can assure anyone interested in pleasing a young learner or their teacher that ONE HUNRED DAY books and related items will be put to good use. I can even more confidently recommend that THIS book is a delight for a wide range of ages, and will be returned to often, certainly more often than a simple  number-concept book would be. It will also intrigue, generating curiosity about the actual size of a WHOLE WHALE, about the other animals and their sizes and habitats and names and more. It will also make a lovely touchpoint/reminder to MAKE SOME SPACE when things feel a bit crowded in groups or when someone is treated as if they are not a good fit. 

This is one of those picture books that I first read about, somewhere, and what i read caused me to check it out from my library immediately. Now, as i search for reviews and posts online, I'm not able to locate that original review, or blog post, or tweet or whatever first caught my attention. Barefoot Books is a small traditional press, but even so I expected this book to have more public praise by now (released in June). Wide praise is well-deserved. I hope that my post here will catch your eye enough to check it out and recommend it to others, if you find yourself to be as big a fan as I am. 


  1. It is, right? And the theme of inclusivity and acceptance is wonderfully engaged, almost like an afterthought that you can't stop thinking about!


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