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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

If You Want to See A Whale

Jonathan posted about potential easy reader contenders for the Newbery; but we have yet to delve into picture books. I’m always on the lookout for picture books with text strong enough to give a 300 page novel a challenge at the table.  I think that such a thing is rare, but I’m excited to have found a rarity in Julie Fogliano’s IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE. Her title last year, AND THEN IT’S SPRING (both are illustrated by Erin Stead) was also bandied about as Newbery-discussable.  This one seems to me even stronger.

It’s a hard one to talk about without quoting the entire text of the book.  The first strengths that jump out are the rhythm and pacing of the short-lined poetic text.  The tone is strongly reminiscent of Ruth Krauss, yet with an internal consistency that makes it clearly its own.

But it’s the structure and theme of the text, on top of the music, that makes this narrative “distinguished” to me, more so than AND THEN IT’S SPRING.   The double-entendre of what you shouldn’t be looking at, if you’re looking for a whale, is funny and insightful for it’s intended audience, and opens itself up to play and interpretation in a myriad of ways.

The pictures are a huge part of the book’s overall impact, and yet I think the text alone is so strong we can put it at the Newbery table.  The difficult discussion will be about the last pages…where the pictures join the words in finishing the story.  Do we consider the ending that is if there are no pictures?  Or the ending that is with the pictures?  They are very different endings, but both of them wonderful.  This is one of my October Nominations.

Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at


  1. I love this post so much. I have nothing to add except a nod of agreement. The words in this book are breathtaking.

  2. This would be a perfectly wonderful book to use as a writing prompt in the classroom.

  3. Yes, yes, yes!!

  4. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    This is my top-rated picture book contender, too. Would anybody like to suggest others that we should take a look at? I haven’t read THIS IS THE ROPE by Jacqueline Woodson yet, but we’ve admired her picture book texts for years . . .

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Jonathan, would you approach this book as if it were a different genre than What the Heart Knows? (Given one is a collection and the other a single poem.)

      Kicking myself for not thinking of this book. I read it every time I’m in the store. Unless someone posts the text, I’ll have to go back yet again to determine whether it displaces one of my top three.

    • I just read Floca’s LOCOMOTIVE and I have to say it has my vote in both the picture book and non-fiction categories (not that there are fill in the blank spots) It may have been in my October three if I’d read it a few day earlier.

  5. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    Great question, Leonard.

    I think you have to look at it both ways. As a picture book text, I think it’s clearly the cream of the crop (although I welcome arguments for other titles). As poetry, it’s only other peer is, as you mention, WHAT THE HEART KNOWS. If I’m going to give Newbery recognition to a single poem over a collection, it had better be one hell of a poem–and this one clearly is. It also doesn’t hurt that this poem has a more extended narrative arc than any of those in Sidman’s collection, and it’s ostensibly for a younger audience. I’m not sure those comparisons really help all that much from an intellectual standpoint. Since I like them both, I can be swayed toward one over the other, depending merely on which one is easier to build consensus around.

    Incidentally, during my tenure on the committee, I wrestled with this problem. We honored SHOW WAY which is a picture book text–but is it also poetry, too? Reminds me very much of IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE in that respect. I also spent lots of time with Joyce Sidman’s SONG OF THE WATER BOATMAN which went on to receive a Caldecott Honor that year, and A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL, which was more recognizably a single poem–and which also went on to win a Printz Honor.

  6. Julie Fogliano and Erin Stead are absolutely my favorite new author/illustrator team. It was fascinating to hear how AND THEN IT’S SPRING came about.

    As for this one, I agree that the text is Newbery-considerable.

  7. I think that the text stands alone, although it changes the experience from that of reading the picture book as a whole. I’m so convinced, actually, that I used it as one of the Dial-a-Story options at our library this month.
    The language is certainly distinguished, and I’m not sure there’s an ineffective line to be found, but two brief samples include:
    “and whales won’t wait for watching”
    “because possible pirates won’t help at all/ when you’re waiting for a whale”
    The cadence paired with the alliteration turn what could be a tongue twister into verse that just rolls off of your tongue and must be read out loud. And the whimsy of the what-not-to-watch directions is perfect for a child audience (and for adult readers too). A comfy chair and cozy blanket are familiar players in the body of work for young children, but the “not-so-comfy chair” and “not-too-cozy blanket” take those conventions and turn them into something both familiar and fresh.
    For me, it meets the criteria of being a book that I think everyone should read, preferably out loud.

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