Two Middle-Grade Novels Put Endangered Wildlife Front and Center
A WHALE OF THE WILD
Written by Rosanne Parry
Illustrated by Lindsay Moore
Written by Philippe Cousteau and Austin Aslan
Illustrated by James Madsen
In 2018, an orca known as Tahlequah carried her dead calf on her nose through the Salish Sea for 17 days. Rosanne Parry makes the killer whale’s mourning ritual visceral in her enthralling new novel, “A Whale of the Wild.” This species is in peril. Dams and overfishing have depleted the salmon population they feed on; ships interfere with echolocation; oil spills and toxic waste have poisoned their reproductive systems. Today, only 73 of these intelligent mammals remain.
Parry writes in a tradition of animal adventure novels (Richard Adams’s 1972 classic, “Watership Down”; Katherine Applegate’s “The One and Only Ivan” in 2012) that address environmental issues from the animals’ point of view, nudging humans to the periphery. Like the cub in her 2019 best seller, “A Wolf Called Wander,” in her new novel a young orca uses her mettle to find her way home — in this case after a tsunami destroys the coastline markers that would have guided her.
The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Vega and Deneb, orca siblings whose “click-stream” vision, whistled songs and hunting expeditions invite the reader into their watery world — illustrated with Lindsay Moore’s graceful black-and-white artwork. Vega is in training to be a wayfinder — a navigator for her matriarchal pod on salmon-seeking expeditions — but after the stillbirth of the sister who was going to be her “forever companion,” Vega impulsively swims away from her family. Parry sagaciously merges the emotional and physical weights of grief as Vega, like the real-life Tahlequah, carries the calf’s carcass on her nose, so that “the weight of all the time we will never have drags me down.” When the tsunami comes, she and Deneb have to contend with their harsh ecosystem: rescuing a whale trapped in a net, interpreting phantom coastlines, navigating debris. “A Whale of the Wild” is a dreamily written, slyly educational, rousing maritime adventure about finding one’s way within one’s family by wandering into the “blue wilderness” of the ocean when you meant to find the sea.
As we humans persist in destroying natural habitats, a new novel asks: What if the animals were in charge? In “The Endangereds,” by the “Xploration Awesome Planet” host Philippe Cousteau (Jacques’s grandson) and Austin Aslan, scientists bring four mammals — a homesick polar bear, a wise orangutan, a brawly pangolin and a computer-hacker narwhal — to “the Ark,” a glass dome designed to harbor “at risk” wildlife. There, a small group of animals accidentally becomes “hyper”-intelligent. On a mission to restore “balance back to nature,” the superhero team rescues a pair of black-footed ferrets from their kidnappers. Brisk action sequences ensue, including an uproarious caper involving a prairie dog cult and whiz-bang technology, all cinematically illustrated by James Madsen. This first book in a new fantasy series combines ecological thrills with a simple, vital message: Protect biodiversity and work together. Novels like these two allow young readers to imagine how humans and animals might better coexist in the future.
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