THE GREAT WHALE OF KANSAS by Richard W. Jennings
Kirkus Star

THE GREAT WHALE OF KANSAS

Age Range: 9 - 14

KIRKUS REVIEW

A quirky wonder about truth, perseverance, and the vagaries of fame. In Melville, Kansas, located at the geographic center of the country, an unnamed 11-year-old boy discovers a fossil unlike any ever excavated before. It appears to be the remains of a garden-variety Cretaceous-era mosasaur—Kansas is littered with the remnants of these denizens of an erstwhile inland sea—contained within the belly of an enormous skeletal whale, whose vastness dwarfs modern whales. Our narrator does not start out in pursuit of fame (his original intent was to dig a pond for a water garden), but he is not unaware of the ramifications of his discovery: “[it] would put me in the natural history books for sure, right alongside Darwin [and] Crichton . . .” What follows is an often-hilarious battle for ownership (and bragging) rights for the fossil, with our hero pitted against Fossil Expert from the State Museum, a fearsome nemesis indeed. Jennings (Orwell’s Luck, 2000) draws a delightful portrait of this remarkably determined and self-contained child, who declares early on, “A hole is an achievement. A great hole is a great achievement. I was going to dig a great hole.” The cast of secondary characters is equally engaging, from the boy’s father (who is ready to sell his backyard to the highest bidder) and the redoubtable Fossil Expert, to Tom White Cloud and Miss Whistle (the sympathetic Native American bookstore owner and the beautiful science teacher) to Phil, the Solitary Duck. (“When it comes to conversation, a duck is every bit as good as a dog.”) There is nothing stale about this book; from start to finish, it is every bit as much of an original as Kansascetus humongous himself. (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-618-10228-0
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Walter Lorraine/Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2001




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