Welcome home by Christina Booth

cover image

Ford St, 2013. ISBN 9781925000085.
(Age: 5+) Warmly recommended. Picture book. Whaling. Environment. A young boy hears the call of the whale, but no one else can hear it. At night he hears her call, telling him of her life. She tells him of the good times, and then the bad. She tells him of her fear and the darkness, and asks why she was sent away, and whether it is safe to return. All the while the beautiful illustrations swathe the pages in blues and whites of the animal and its environment, as we see why the whale has not returned.
Small illustrations surround the whale, images of sailing boats and crew in longboats, throwing harpoons, the sea littered with many of these knifing through the water. And the whale asks why. The boy says sorry to the animal. The next pages show the return of the whale to give birth to her baby, and people crowding the shores to watch the majestic animals.
This story is based on the return of the southern right whale to Tasmania, where until 1900 it was hunted almost to extinction.
The use of crayon and watercolour is stunning, emulating the waves of the sea, and giving an impressive image of the whale as she questions the boy about what happened in the past. The spare use of other colour underlines the feel of the sea and the Tasmanian winter months, and the boy's warm clothing reflects the time of the year.
The subtlety of the images of the whalers does not overcrowd the story of the return of the whales to their breeding grounds. It gives a background, rather than be a treatise on the horrors of whaling and its results. People reading the book can find out more for themselves, or read the double page at the end which gives more details, but the heart of this book is the return. My review copy came with two pages of information from the author, which I hope will be available to all.
Fran Knight