Name of Book: Jonah’s Whale
Author: Eileen Spinelli
Illustrator: Giuliano Ferri
Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Audience: Ages 4 to 9
Summary: This is the story of Jonah’s encounter with the whale from the whale’s perspective. God created Whale and gave him everything that he needed: a family, food to eat, joyful songs to sing, and a beautiful ocean in which to swim and play. Then God called upon Whale to rescue a drowning man from a stormy sea. Whale did as he was told, but no matter how hard he listened, he couldn’t hear any more directions from God regarding what to do with the fellow who was now in his stomach. Finally, on the third night, Whale heard new instructions to spit the man Jonah onto dry land. This he did, and then he returned to the open sea, where he spent his remaining years singing his sweet song, ready to rescue anyone else who needed him.
Literary elements at work in the story: Though the gripping narrative of a terrible storm, a man lost at sea, and his rescue by a gargantuan whale is embedded in this book, it is really the character development of the whale that moves this story along. Unlike most accounts of the scriptural Jonah, the reader learns next to nothing about the man tossed from the ship here. Instead, Jonah’s Whale begins with Whale’s creation and follows him as he revels in all that God has provided for him. Ferri’s lovely watercolor and colored pencil illustrations show us a whale who cannot stop smiling as he sings and romps in a blue-green sea. Even in the crucial swallowing and spitting up scenes, we see only a shadow of a prostrate man through the whale’s sides. The point here is Whale’s commitment to follow God’s instructions, no matter how long he must swim around, slightly nauseous, waiting to hear God’s word.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? There are no female characters in this story, but otherwise gender, race, and economics do not figure in the tale.
Theological conversation partners: The obvious use of Jonah’s Whale would be in conjunction with the biblical story of Jonah. It would be particularly interesting to compare Whale’s willingness to follow God’s orders with Jonah’s reluctance to do so. This story would also be interesting to use with other scripture on following God’s will, e.g., “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Faith talk questions:
- Why do you think that Whale was so happy in the beginning of this book?
- Think back to the Bible story of Jonah in the storm. Why was he in the ship in the first place?
- Why did Whale swallow Jonah?
- What was Whale doing when he finally heard more instructions from God about what to do with the man in his belly?
- What do you think that God created you to do?
This review was written by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Beth Lyon-Suhring.
Jonah’s Whale by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.