Wednesday, June 13


by David Lucas
Knopf 2007
(Andersen Press, UK 2006)


A frolicking whale accidentally beaches himself atop a port town in the night, waking the townfolk. As they climb on top of the the whale they begin to wonder what to do about the situation. Seeing as the whale is too large to be moved a suggestion is made (and agreed upon by the whale itself) that it should be hacked up for a stew.

"No!" shouts young Joe, the first to discover the whale outside his bedroom window.

Soon everyone is asking the wisest of the wise -- an owl -- what should be done. The owl suggests asking the winds, who in turn ask the sun and moon, who in turn as the stars for a solution (it's all verbal, there are no pictures of all this asking, unfortunately). Finally word comes back that they townfolk are to sing the rain song.

"But that never works!" Nonetheless they sing it.

Soon the rains come and flood the town, sending the whale back into the sea. It also totally floods the town away. A grateful whale begins singing a song himself, a fish song, and soon all sorts of marine life come to shore with shells and pearls and shiny pebbles to rebuild the town much prettier than before. With everyone happy the whale departs promising to come back some day.

This is the second book of Lucas' I've read (of three, see Nutmeg for my other take) and it's clear to me that his sense of picture book storytelling is "unusual." That's one of them code words, like the way "interesting" when used for art generally means "I don't like it." It isn't that I don't like Lucas' books -- no, I want to like them -- but they always end with me feeling like something is missing. The problem is in trying to figure out what is missing because his stories tend to operate in their own worlds and by their own rules, with little in the way of clues to help impose some sense of order.

In this story our main character, beside the whale, is a boy named Joe. We learn nothing about Joe other than he doesn't want to see the whale destroyed. That's not much in the way of character, and he has so little else to say or do in this book, so why even give him a name at all? And the whale, so quick to give up and allow the townfolk to hack him into a stew... what's up with that? Sending the owl on a mission to find the answer is fine but, as I mentioned, the asking up the chain-of-command is all verbal and fits on a single spread.

It's odd, if you look at the book without reading the words you can almost piece together a story on your own. It makes me wonder if Lucas doesn't actually do this, write the story after the illustrations are finished. That doesn't sound likely, but it might explain the quirkiness of what is written.

Lucas has a nice watercolor and pen-bleed style and a very identifiable style. His books are fun to look at and it's apparent that he likes stories set near water. All that's missing are stories that transcend "unusual" and become "unique."
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