Fogliano and Stead (And Then It’s Spring, 2012) produce another tender, timid story about a boy, his animal friends (a basset hound and a bird) and practicing patience.
Whale watching requires lots of resolve to avoid distractions like birds, roses, pirate ships, clouds, pelicans and so on. Fogliano’s exhaustive accounting of what not to notice artfully communicates the impossibility of unflagging focus. Her skeined advice unreels in a vivid, looping poem, while Stead’s soft, accompanying artwork settles into subdued, simple compositions. Linoleum printing offers oceanic, undulating blues and greens, while pencil drawings bring the redheaded boy’s freckles and his hound’s drooping skin into focus. Stunning specificity surfaces in the poem’s off-kilter phrasing (an inchworm’s “just nibble scoot” across a leaf). The drifting verse floats and coalesces like the clouds that threaten to divert the boy from whale watching. When read aloud, it charms like an incantation. The poem’s unresolved ellipses at the conclusion suggest an unending whale hunt, but Stead’s final two images silently deliver what we’ve been waiting for. The whale, huge and hidden, floats beneath the unknowing child’s tiny vessel and then twists its mass, pulling its head completely out of the water.
The boy, his dog and bird rear back in wonder; readers will gape at the two enormous, whale-sized talents at work in this transfixing picture book. (Picture book. 2-6)