Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson

The Snail and the Whale
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Ages: 4-8
Topics: snails, whales, adventure, big/small

A sea snail who lives on a small rock near a harbor has an "itchy foot". She slithers a message "Ride wanted around the world" on the black rock and her message is answered by:
A humpback whale, immensely long,
Who sang to the snail a wonderful song
Of shimmering ice and coral caves
And shooting stars and enormous waves.

So the snail climbs onto the whale's tail and off they journey . They see penguins and icebergs, volcanoes, underwater caves, and experience sunny climes and huge thunder storms. The snail "gazed and gazed, amazed by it all,/And she said to the whale, "I feel so small .

Then one day, the whale loses his way and is "beached in a bay". The tiny snail must get help for her mighty friend. She slithers a note on a school blackboard to raise the alarm and saves her friend.

This charming and poetic tale of the value of even the smallest creatures will delight children, as will the beautiful and amusing illustrations. There's lots of humor to keep adults entertained (the strict teacher turns "pale" when she finds a snail on her blackboard, the irritation of the other snails on the rock with itchy foot's constant movement) and also an effective environmental message (the whale loses his way because he is overwhelmed by the noise of a speedboat race.) The poetry is lilting and varied and never awkward.

The illustrations are bright and vibrant. All but four pages are ocean scenes and Scheffler does a terrific job creating very varied ocean scenes in pencil, crayon, and ink with beautiful watercolor skies. The facial expressions on the snails and other animals will make you laugh and there's lots of tiny details to make this a book you'll come back to again and again.

Julia Donaldson is the author of several excellent children's picture books including Room on the Broom and The Gruffalo.

Axel Scheffler has illustrated many children's books and also illustrated Donaldson's Room on the Broom and The Gruffalo


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