The Storm Whale by Benji Davies (2013)
Even before you open Benji Davies’ debut picture book The Storm Whale (2013) it is patently obvious that this is a beautiful book. The front page has an illustration of Noi, the protagonist of this picture book, tending to the seemingly sad Storm Whale. The illustrations are undeniably gorgeous and add an unspoken depth to Noi’s experiences throughout the book.
From the very first title page the framing of the story begins. There are images of the sea becoming more violent and restless, representing the loneliness which encompasses the protagonist. We then meet Noi, who is living on the coast with his father and their six cats. While his father is out working during the night, a storm rages around their house. In the morning Noi walks along the coast and spots a little Whale who has been washed up. He takes joy in looking after the whale (which results in some amusing scenes) but he experiences guilt and fear as he attempts to keeps the whale a secret from his father.
The beautiful illustrations manage to depict the sincere and tender moments which Noi experiences with the Storm Whale and his father. They speak to the reader in a subtle manner alongside the minimal text. It allows the reader to draw their own conclusions from Noi’s story. The polarities of light and dark are used to depict when he is happy and carefree, and when he has to face a situation which challenges his emotions. One of my favourite images is when Noi has to set the whale free. You are drawn in by the vast double page spread, and then notice that Noi and his father are watching the whale from their fishing boat. In this scene, the text is secondary to the image. This is a brilliant example of how images can, and should work in a picture book.
There is a danger to attempt to be ‘too’ clever with picture books; to add in too many metaphors, or to wedge in an explicit moral. Thankfully, this picture book does neither of these things. It is a refreshing ode to simplicity.
It is hard to provide a review of this picture book which does it justice without revealing the most satisfying parts of the book. So, let me just say that this picture book is carefully crafted and heart-warming. It does not attempt to be anything other than what it is; a story of a lonely little boy who seeks friendship. Benji Davies is one to watch.