A Whale Named Henry
Dave Jenkinson is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and the author of the “Portraits” section of Emergency Librarian.
Henry, a 30-foot adolescent killer whale, is part of a pod of 22 whales swimming off the coast of British Columbia. Like many youth, Henry does not heed his mother’s advice. As she says, “Henry thinks after he gets into trouble instead of before.” She has warned him of numerous dangers: freighters’ propeller-blades, waters polluted by pulp mills, shallow mudflats capable of stranding a whale, and narrow-necked inlets or bays wherein fisherman try to catch whales to sell them to aquariums.
As the pod passes Sechelt Inlet, Henry recklessly pursues a salmon and gets caught in the Shookumchuck tidal rapids at the inlet’s entrance. Almost fatally battered by his uncontrolled trip through the rapids, and now caught inside Sechelt Inlet, Henry remembers his mother’s teaching that the only safe way to traverse these tidal rapids is during slack tide. Henry unfortunately cannot recall the outlet’s location. To discover the exit, Henry must circumnavigate the entire inlet, and his activities and misadventures during this eight- or nine-day period make up the bulk of the book’s action. A small map appears at intervals throughout the story to allow readers to follow Henry’s changing locations.
Originally written in the thirties as an entertainment for the author’s five children, the story was rediscovered when the publishers were preparing an article on the author following her death. The publishers acknowledge that some modest changes were made in the story to bring it up to date. While the story is good, Mathews’ black-and-white illustrations are outstanding. Constituting almost half of the book’s length, they poetically capture the whales’ size and strength as well as their almost ballet-like gracefulness in the water. The book’s design is also excellent, with each page being outlined by a narrow illustrated border that encloses both text and illustrations.
Readers who have enjoyed Holling C. Holling’s books will appreciate Blanchet’s story about Henry, though some older elementary children might have preferred the killer whale to have been treated in a less anthropomorphic fashion. Because the book is divided into nine chapters, it lends itself to being read to a younger audience.