The Whale Child by Keith Egawa and Chenoa Egawa

the whale child
by Keith Egawa
and Chenda Egawa
North Atlantic Books
Middle Grade Environmental

An inspiring middle-grade chapter book that introduces young readers to the environmental challenges facing the planet through the eyes of Coast Salish characters and authors.

“You have family on land as you do in the sea. . . being a caretaker of the earth begins with taking care of the water that all life depends on.”

Shiny is a whale child. One day his mother teaches him about the harm facing the world’s oceans because of human carelessness. Shiny agrees to be turned into a boy by the ocean’s water spirit so he can visit the land and alert people to these dangers. He meets Alex, a young Coast Salish girl who learns from Shiny that the living spirit of water exists in everything–glaciers, rivers, oceans, rain, plants, and all living creatures. Together the two travel the earth, confronting the realities of a planet threatened by an uncertain future. Inspired by Shiny’s hope, humor, and wisdom, Alex makes the promise to become a teacher for future generations. She realizes that the timeless Indigenous value of environmental stewardship is needed now more than ever and that we must all stand up on behalf of Mother Earth.

Written and illustrated by Indigenous authors Keith Egawa and Chenoa Egawa, The Whale Child introduces children ages 7 to 12 to existing environmental issues with a message of hope, education, sharing, and action. Ideal for middle-grade readers who are beginning to read chapter books on their own, this book also includes resources for students and teachers to facilitate learning about Pacific Northwest Indigenous cultures and the environment.

These pages pack a powerful message with a focus on environmental issues facing the world’s oceans and the importance of them to our planet.
Shiny is born as a very intuitive and caring whale, who learns all about life in the ocean and the balance of nature from his mother. His destiny has him then turning into a human, where he becomes the brother of a girl and teaches her about the importance of life in the ocean and exposes the troubles the underwater world faces thanks to pollution and more.
While this book is advertised for middle graders, I see this one for slightly younger readers, ages 6 to 9.
The traditional storytelling of Indigenous lore flows beautifully through these pages. Nature, spirits and life are interlinked in a wondrous way, which opens up a different view to the world around us and the balance between man and nature. In this book, the importance of the ocean and life in it take center stage as the impact modern life has had is discussed. The authors manage to bring all of this across in a way young readers/listeners will be able to understand and open up the door to discussions surrounding water pollution and such.
Bright illustrations accompany the text, allowing listeners to sink into the described scenes visually and gain a better understanding of what is being described. This is a great book for groups to open up environmental topics, especially those relating to seas and oceans. The text is rather heavy four younger listeners, but on the other hand, a bit light and short for older ones. So, I’m placing this one somewhere in the middle and see it as a good read-aloud.
The relationship between Shiny and ‘his sister’ is one readers will be able to connect with…and it introduces them to the thoughts of this type of storytelling and beliefs as well. Of course, this one is very message driven, and that’s what makes it great for classrooms and homeschoolers as well.
And here they are…

KEITH T. A. EGAWA is a novelist who focuses on both adult and children’s literature. He is a Washington native and a member of the Lummi Indian Nation. Egawa’s extensive experience in the field of child welfare has provided him with both inspiration and insight into his subject matter.

CHENOA T. Y. EGAWA is Coast Salish of the Lummi and S’Klallam Nations of Washington State. She is a medicine woman, singer, writer, illustrator, photographer, and teacher dedicated to bringing healing to our Mother Earth and to people of all origins. She is a voice to bring Native wisdom and perspectives to the world when these teachings are particularly poignant reminders of our shared responsibility to live with respect for ourselves, one another, and all that gives us life.


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