Jonah the Whale

Jonah the Whale

by Susan Shreve, Susan Shreve

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To cope with the taunts of his schoolmates, lonely, overweight Jonah escapes into the fantasy of being a talk show host named "Jonah the Whale", and creates a new identity for himself.


To cope with the taunts of his schoolmates, lonely, overweight Jonah escapes into the fantasy of being a talk show host named "Jonah the Whale", and creates a new identity for himself.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Shreve's ("The Goalie") novel about a boy who stretches the truth "bigger than any truth could ever be" captures wrenchingly realistic emotions while it follows credibility-stretching plot developments. It's easy to excuse Jonah, "an oversized 11-year-old boy, called good-looking only by his grandmother," for his lapses into a dream world, since his real world is not so glamorous. After his mother's boyfriend Tom (whom Jonah adores) walks out, Jonah's family moves to a new town, where the overweight sixth-grader must take care of his younger brother every day after school and struggles to make friends. When a student turns the teacher's welcoming note on the blackboard into an insult, replacing Jonah's last name with "the Whale," the resilient hero becomes determined to turn the slur into the title of a TV talk show he could host from inside of a set resembling a whale. Middle schoolers, especially those feeling a bit out of step, will cheer when Jonah actually pulls off this nearly impossible feat, lining up Michael Jordan and some child celebrities as interview subjects. While mentions of today's stars may quickly date the novel, the reassuringly happy-ever-after ending promises even Tom's return to Jonah's family. Shreve's strong characters, convincing dialogue and soothing dose of fantasy fulfillment will likely have readers casting votes for the return of Jonah as well.
Children's Literature - Scott S. Floyd
Jonah Morrison has a few problems. His mom's boyfriend left, he has no friends, and he lies constantly. For Jonah there is only one logical way to solve this problem: create his own television show with him as the star. Not only does Jonah believe his lies, he makes his lies truth. From a made up interview with Michael Jordan to his actual encounters with the stars, readers will love the way Jonah overcomes the obstacles in his life. A happy conclusion keeps the readers wanting more. Hooray for the underdog! Hooray for Jonah the Whale!
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Jonah Morrison is an oversized 11 year old with a big imagination and a facility for fabricating outrageous lies. He moves from New York City to a suburb of New Haven, CT, with his mother and little brother when she and her boyfriend, Thomas Hale, the only father Jonah has ever known, break up. The boy thinks the emptiness he feels for Thomas is hunger and eats constantly, causing his sixth-grade classmates to nickname him "Jonah, the Whale." Thomas had always believed in Jonah and thought that his imagination was a good thing. Missing Thomas and hoping to bring him back, Jonah decides to take the man's advice about turning adversity into success and attempts to launch a talk show for kids, with the set showing a huge figure of a whale and Jonah inside. This story is highly improbable, as Jonah actually gets a telephone interview with Michael Jordan and becomes a famous TV anchorperson, causing Thomas to return to the family, just as Jonah has planned. What the novel lacks in probability, however, it makes up for in humor, appealing characters, and warmth. This feel-good story of optimism and success leaves readers with a sense of empowerment. Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
Horn Book Magazine
Jonah Morrison's life is not going well. He's the new kid at school, his mother's boyfriend has just left them, and none of his clothes fit since he can't seem to stop eating. Worst of all, after a classmate dubs him "Jonah the Whale," he responds by telling everyone that he is going to be the host of a television talk show about "people who have invented their lives from nothing, people who are inspirations to others," and that he has interviewed Michael Jordan for the pilot program. Challenged by his classmates to prove his claim, Jonah enlists the help of Blister, a scrawny, feisty girl with an imagination as vivid as his own. Together they manage to interview Michael Jordan by phone for a demo tape, and sell the idea of the show to a local cable station. Here the plot begins to take on 'People' magazine overtones (appropriately, since that's where Jonah got his idea), as the show is a hit, Mrs. Morrison's boyfriend sees it and comes back, and Jonah and Blister become media celebrities. Shreve's sober style and deadpan humor are somewhat at odds with the implausibility of these events. While the first half of the book is an affecting look at a likable boy with some very real problems, the second half uses rather dubious means to solve those problems (Michael Jordan?!). But although this may be wish-fulfillment for most sixth graders, the story is best enjoyed not as a look at real life but as a true fish story.
Kirkus Reviews
An overweight boy transforms his fantasy of TV stardom into a formula for success in this poignant, affirming novel from Shreve ("The Formerly Great Alexander Family", 1995, etc.). When his mother's boyfriend, Thomas, walks out on their family, 11-year-old Jonah barely has time to react before they move to a more affordable apartment. Feeling empty inside, missing his "almost-father," he overeats, and soon none of his three pairs of pants fits comfortably. But there's no money for new pants; Jonah's mother works two low-paying jobs to support him and his baby brother. When he is dubbed "Jonah the Whale" at his new school, rather than let the insult fester, Jonah turns the image into an unlikely symbol of empowerment: He imagines himself sitting inside a whale on the set of a new talk show exclusively for kids. While his grades and classwork suffer, Jonah methodically develops the idea for his show, selecting his first guests, choosing his questions, and even taping an imaginary interview with basketball star Michael Jordan. Some playground bragging forces Jonah to prove that he really talked to Jordan, and through the boy's initiative—and Jordan's kindness—Jonah succeeds. In fact, his first interviews are so impressive that he eventually winds up with his own television show, just as he dreamed. His other dream, that Jonah's mother and boyfriend reconcile, is also realized, the one false note in an uplifting tale with an unpredictable plot and a sympathetic, likable hero.

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.82(w) x 8.58(h) x 0.61(d)
740L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

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