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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Whale Trails: Before and Now, written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2015. $20.50 ages 5 and up

" ... the afternoon sun reflects off our anchored sightseeing boat, 130 feet of aluminum scrubbed clean for the passengers that board every day. Before now, this wharf held sloops and schooners and whale boats."

For this father-daughter team, who run a whale boat business, their days are filled with visitors excited about being on the sea, and with seeing whales. It is a family business that has been operating for generations. As she explains to us, the business of searching for whales on their sightseeing boat is vastly different from whaling in past generations.

As we move forward through each pair of pages, we see a scene on the left from the business today (done in full color, detailed gouache and acrylic with pencil illustrations). It is faced on the right with a sepia-toned look at the past. Life has changed dramatically through the years that our young narrator's family has been 'searching' for whales.  Despite these immense changes, when the boat returns from their latest voyage the bay itself and the whales have remained essentially the same since their family business began operation.

"We return to the dock in the cool of the evening. The vendors
have gone home, the streets have emptied. Tired passengers
disembark, and I go up on deck, collecting left-behind things
to put in the lost and found.

Before now, ships returned with hundreds of barrels of whale oil for fuel and soap;
thousands of pounds of whale bone for fishing rods, corsets, and fertilizer; spermaceti
for candles; and scrimshaw made from whale's teeth as loved ones waited on shore."

People are endlessly fascinated by whales and spend millions of dollars every year to go out in boats to 'watch' these magnificent giants. Combining what has happened in the past with today's excursions, Lesa Cline-Ransome has created a book that children will find both intelligent and revealing. As it examines past practices and compares them with what is happening today, children can see how attitudes have changed towards creatures that live in the wild.

I love the artwork created by G. Brian Karas that shows the two scenes side-by-side. They have quite the impact! It is easy to keep the time periods separate for young readers. The details he includes capture attention, invite questions and offer explanations. Historical and hopeful, this is a terrific book to share with children.

 An author's note is included in backmatter, as are a glossary and an invitation to seek out other books that offer further study.

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