The Day the Whale Came

Overview

At the turn of the century, sideshows traveled by train across the country, displaying oddities of one sort or another. Captain Pinkney stopped in Johnstown, Illinois, with his own attraction: a dead humpback whale. Ben and his friend Tommy are on their way to see the whale when Tommy shows Ben his penknife, which he intends to use to get a souvenir. Ben doesn’t want to go along with Tommy’s plan to cut off a piece of the whale. Ben cares about the whale, even if it is dead, and...

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Overview

At the turn of the century, sideshows traveled by train across the country, displaying oddities of one sort or another. Captain Pinkney stopped in Johnstown, Illinois, with his own attraction: a dead humpback whale. Ben and his friend Tommy are on their way to see the whale when Tommy shows Ben his penknife, which he intends to use to get a souvenir. Ben doesn’t want to go along with Tommy’s plan to cut off a piece of the whale. Ben cares about the whale, even if it is dead, and he learns about standing up for what he believes in.

When Captain Pinkney brings the carcass of a dead whale to Johnstown, Illinois, Tommy and his friend Ben go and pay to get a look.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The rotting carcass of a humpback whale is the unlikely focal point of this moralistic story set in the early 1900s. The likable narrator explains that an entrepreneur has rolled into his small Illinois town on a train, selling admission to a "once-in-a-lifetime" viewing "for educational purposes" of his freakish cargo: a smelly dead whale. Tommy, who has read "a lot about humpbacks, is horrified when his bossy best friend reveals a penknife with which he intends to obtain a "souvenir" of the mammal, and foils the plan. When the train breaks down, Tommy helps the townsfolk bury the whale; later, he finds a new best friend Tommy's mom says, "Sticking up for something you believe in and sticking up for yourself are the same thing". At spring's arrival the town receives an unexpected reward: a carpet of wildflowers in the shape of a whale blooms at the gravesite. The intriguing look at small-town America long ago gets flattened under Bunting's Smoky Night heavy-handed message. Debut illustrator Menchin's unconventional pictures, which are dominated by earth tones, subtly incorporate photographs with stylized drawings that take inventive liberties with perspective and scale. They show a sense of humor missing from the text, but they don't dispel the overwhelmingly somber mood. Ages 6-10. Mar.
Children's Literature - Joyce Rice
A whale is coming to Johnstown, Illinois by train, and although the whale is dead, everybody in town is anxious to see it. Ben and Tommy are friends and they are going to see the whale. Sometimes Tommy doesn't like what Ben does, but he usually doesn't say so. Ben has brought a penknife to the train station. He is hoping to get a piece of the whale as a souvenir. He wants Tommy's help to distract Captain Pinkney so that he can get his souvenir. Tommy feels sorry for the poor animal, and the events that follow teach Tommy something about himself. It's a story that presents a message about self-confidence and trust in oneself that even the youngest reader will understand.
School Library Journal
Gr 2-4This curious story about a traveling whale exhibit seems an odd vehicle for a young boy's discovery of self-esteem. Tommy's first-person account of going to the train station in his small midwestern hometown to see a dead humpback whale is also a story of two opportunists. One is Captain Pinkney, who is touring the country by train and charging people for a look at the dead animal. The other is Tommy's friend Ben, who, to Tommy's disgust, yearns to cut off a piece of the creature's flipper as a souvenir. When the train breaks down just outside the town and the captain threatens to dump the smelly whale, the men and boys bury it and Tommy stands up to Ben. Menchin's collage illustrations are thickly outlined and detailed in pen and ink. Clothing is made of material and buttons; cutouts of ears and hair are added to skin-tone paper heads with features drawn in. The style is a mix of bold abstract and garish cartoonthe characters are a primitive echo of David Diaz's illustrations. The use of present tense to recount an event that happened in the past is awkward "That winter I walk out to the place where we buried him". Bunting's fine quality of writing is lacking here, as is a story that will be of interest to young people.Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH
Kirkus Reviews
When a train pulls into town carting a dead whale, the citizens of Johnstown, Illinoisþone in a Model Aþeagerly hand over their buffalo-head nickels and dimes to Captain Pinkney for a chance to view the dead behemoth. Tommy, who has read about whales, is nauseated by the spectacle, particularly when it turns out the whale is rotting and smelly. His friend, Ben, wants to cut off a hunk of the whale as a souvenir, intentions that spell the end of his and Tommy's friendship. As the train is about to depart, the engine breaks down, and Captain Pinkney asks for the townspeople's help in burying the smelly carcass. Tommy feels somewhat better about putting the whale to rest, but it isn't until the following spring, when wild flowers flourish over the whale's grave, that Tommy believes that its death is appeased. The language Bunting (December, 1997, etc.) uses is clear as ever, and the analogy of the story, that standing up for what you believe in is the same as sticking up for yourself, rings true. It's just such an odd story, set in turn-of-the-century America, and made more peculiar by Menchin's collage artwork (which, significantly, gives the dead whale a human eye). That a child would be sensitive to the whale's plight may prove a timeless notion, but it feels more 1998 than 1920, the date on a nickel viewed close up. (Picture book. 6-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780152014568
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/1/1998
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 7 - 9 Years
  • Lexile: 590L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.85 (w) x 10.28 (h) x 0.41 (d)

Meet the Author

EVE BUNTING has written over two hundred books for children, including the Caldecott Medal-winning Smoky Night, illustrated by David Diaz. She lives in Southern California.

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