Newbery Medalist Cynthia Rylant brings the peaceful sounds, sights, and characters of the coast vividly to life in the second book of the Lighthouse Family series, in which the family helps reunite a baby beluga whale with its mother.
Pandora, Seabold, Whistler, Lila, and Tiny have all been enjoying the love and comfort that being a family brings. It is a comfort they are unexpectedly reminded of when Whistler and Lila hear the cries of a lonely baby beluga whale named Sebastian. When they learn that he has lost his mama, the Lighthouse Family, with the help of a cranky but noble old cormorant named Huck, does all it can to bring Sebastian and his mother together again.
"In the blackness of the Black Sea,/ the whales are thinking today./ Thinking of those things/ that matter most to them:/ friends, family, supper./ A song they used to know." Using language that both anthropomorphizes and sentimentalizes the creatures of the sea, Rylant's text seems more overblown and portentous than thoughtful. She announces that whales "love their children," and that when baby whales "see their first sky gasp/ at the loveliness of living." Like "angels appearing in the sky," she intones, "whales are proof of God." The text is best when describing the wonder human beings feel when observing whales, and least successful when Rylant skips indiscriminately between factual information and omniscient or self-consciously cute pronouncements ("Past Cape Farewell, they say good-bye..../ And under the Red Sea, their dreams are in color"). Rylant's acrylic illustrations, quaintly painted with natural sea sponges, are hazy, in the same naive style she used for Dog Heaven. Although a chart of whale shapes that repeats the book's illustrations in miniature is included, it provides nebulous anatomical information. Diehard Rylant fans may welcome this mawkish paean, but others will find it a whale of a disappointment. All ages.