If You Want to See a Whale, begin with this sweet story


Last year I took the family whale-watching off the coast of Merimbula in New South Wales. After much waiting, we were rewarded with a few glimpses of a whale. As a parent, the outing provided interesting insight into my four children’s different personalities. Two were impatient, constantly asking “Where are the whales?!”; one sat quietly, looking at the ocean in front of him; and my sea-creature-obsessed son moved slowly around the boat, never taking his eyes off the water for fear of missing the moment. Ultimately, if you want to see a whale, you have to have patience and a sharp eye.

If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin E. Stead is a simple story about a little boy looking for a whale. And it’s the sweetest story about having patience (and being rewarded for having patience) that I’ve come across. It begins –

“if you want to see a whale
you will need a window
and an ocean
and time for waiting
and time for looking
and time for wondering ‘is that a whale?”


Fogliano gently cautions would-be-whale-spotters against distractions (pink roses, pelicans, possible pirates) or getting too comfortable (because comfortable chairs will make you fall asleep and “…sleeping eyes can’t watch for whales…”) – of course, these ‘distractions’ are in themselves precious moments in a child’s day, much the same as the way a five-minute walk can turn into an hour with a toddler who stops to examine every leaf, every crack in the footpath and every cloud in the sky, along the way. And much like taking a walk with a toddler, Fogliano’s poetic text meanders beautifully along and the little boy is ultimately rewarded for his patience.


Stead’s glorious pencil and lino print illustrations fill the pages gradually, as Fogliano reveals all the requirements for seeing a whale. Look for some common elements on each page or simply marvel how illustrations can capture patience and persistence so perfectly.

If You Want to See a Whale is suitable for children aged two years and over. It’s available online from Book Depository with free delivery to Australia.

Katrina Whelen

Katrina studied planning and design, did the hard yards working in a big office building and then traded it all in for a relaxing (!) life at home with four children. She now fills her time with writing, completing a degree in genetics and taxiing her children around Melbourne to their various sporting commitments (not necessarily in that order).

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