Whale Fall Café, by Jacquie Sewell, illustrated by Dan Tavis. Tilbury House, 2021. 9780884488484
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
What did you like about the book? Despite its fanciful name and a cover featuring fish at a diner, this book offers solid information about the recently documented phenomenon of whale falls. We’re on a journey with Dr. Fish in his tiny submersible and we’ll be investigating all the animals who survive by breaking down the bodies of these leviathans after they die and sink to the ocean floor. Tavis uses watercolors, ink, and digital tools to create a cartoonish style, filled with talk bubbles and bold fonts, which is an excellent match for Sewell’s relaxed and chatty text. There’s a great kinesthetic element as readers will have to rotate the book vertically as the whale falls through the pages and then back to a horizontal orientation as it crashes to the bottom of the sea. Abundant and thoughtful support material provides lots of additional answers. Asterisks follow unfamiliar terms (such as scavengers, Osedax, and chemoautotrophic bacteria) and direct readers to a glossary at the back of the book. In a “Going Deeper” section, kids will find quarter-sized photos of all the scavengers, along with more information about them. “Discovery of a Whale Fall” tells us that no one had ever even seen a dead whale on the ocean floor until 1987 and that scientists now create artificial ones (using animals that wash ashore) to study the process.
Anything you didn’t like about it? No. It’s very narrowly focused but fills a fascinating niche.
To whom would you recommend this book? Children 6-10 with an interest in oceanography, biomes, whales, and fish. There’s definitely a bit of a gross-out factor here as we meet hagfish, sleeper sharks, rattails, and zombie worms, which I always find increases a book’s popularity.
Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? 591.779
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: August 17, 2021