Ice Whale

18554571by Jean Craighead George
Children’s Lit
4 of 5 stars

I picked up this slim novel at a used bookstore in Glenwood Springs this summer (incidentally there is also a delightful shop there called Kaleidoscoops where yes, you can get any flavor or color of ice cream you can imagine). This is an interesting read for a number of reasons!

The author is known for writing children’s books that highlight the delicate and symbiotic relationship between humans and nature, and this, her last book, is no exception. Set in the northern reaches of Alaska, this is the Moby Dick of children’s books. There’s all kinds of information about Alaska’s climate, the wildlife, two hundred years of whaling, and the indigenous people that possess a wealth of knowledge on how to survive in the harsh conditions. Yet the simplistic language and voice don’t detract from the vivid setting and the cast of characters around the bowhead whale, Siku.

Told through multiple characters over the 200-year lifetime of Siku (including Siku’s POV), we see how drastically the ocean changes and what it means both for the people and the animals living there. When Toozak witnesses the birth of the ice whale he knows they will have a special relationship. But when he accidentally gives away the whales’ location to hunters, he must atone for this betrayal by protecting Siku until the whale’s death. For generations, Toozak’s family tracks Siku’s migration and livelihood, attempting to lift the curse on their family.

Just as interesting as the changing landscape for Siku is the Toozak family’s evolution. As time passes the new generations must face changing beliefs and priorities as Siku becomes more legend than sworn duty.

It’s not often I read a kid’s book (I’d say this is barely middle-grade) and feel like I learned so much! Although the author’s stance is clear, she does a good job of presenting everyone’s point of view, including those of the whale hunters, to study how and why things changed over time. A good read for winter!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Ice Whale is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

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