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Peg and the Whale

by Kenneth Oppel, Terry Widener, illus.

At the outset of this exuberant sea yarn, Peg is “pushing seven” and determined to make a big splash in the world by catching herself a whale. She signs onto the whaling ship Viper and, before long, has hooked her own prey. Having been yanked from the ship’s deck and swallowed whole by the whale, she sets up camp in its belly and travels from Labrador up to the Arctic and back again. Peg is hardly the first literary character to find herself in the maw of a whale, but this larger-than-life child hero tackles the predicament with enough gusto to make her archetypal forebears seem lily-livered.

Kenneth Oppel, author of two other picture books and more than a dozen novels (including the best-selling Silverwing and Sunwing), drew his inspiration for this tale from the Old Testament story of Jonah, the sea shanty “Jack Was Every Inch a Sailor,” and his years in Newfoundland. His writing here is energetic, with a variety of interesting nautical terms, some humorous analogies, and the perspective of a cheery old sea dog who’s like one of Conrad’s narrators suddenly (and inexplicably) become euphoric.

The narrative style makes this a great book for reading aloud, but listeners should make sure they don’t miss the illustrations by Texas-based artist Terry Widener. The acrylic paintings of cartoon-like figures against marvellously detailed backdrops sport bright colours and plenty of movement, echoing the high spirits of the tale. All in all, this is a visually rewarding and entertaining light read. Some children may find a role model in the irrepressible Peg – and others might find her a bit headstrong – but most will find some fun in reading about her adventure.