Storm Whale (Sarah Brennan, illus by Jane Tanner, A&U)
Jane Tanner’s rich, textured, gorgeous illustrations work in parallel with Sarah Brennan’s equally complex and affecting language in this verse-narrative of three young girls who find a beached whale. Their first collaboration is a powerful pairing that brings weight to a simple story. The opening stanza sets up an almost Gothic overtone that is well maintained by the tempestuous, emotional images that dominate. The darkness is carried through to the resolution, which—spoiler—is predictably positive. Yet the tension is sustained, so that you can honestly believe things might not turn out so well. The story, while not violent, might confront sensitive readers, but its willingness to engage with the girls’ fear and anxiousness is refreshing. Interestingly, their world is nearly devoid of adults—they try alone to save the whale in buffeting winds, and even when they return home for a sleepless night, they are each other’s primary comfort. The portrayal of the children’s independence echoes the sophistication of language (‘…in the peace of the ocean deep / Where ancient fugitives find their sleep’): this is a confident story that refuses to ‘talk down’ to children. Its use of symbolic colour and heightened language will also make it suitable for older children and school discussion.
Anica Boulanger-Mashberg is an editor/writer and works at The Hobart Bookshop