- Age Range: 9 - 12 years
- Grade Level: 4 - 7
- Lexile Measure: 0750 (What's this?)
- Hardcover: 189 pages
- Publisher: Dial Books; 1st edition (April 3, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0803737459
- ISBN-13: 978-0803737457
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,511,513 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Ice Whale Hardcover – April 3, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—A final, posthumous nature story from the Newbery Award winner. This dreamy, epic tale entwines the life of Siku, a bowhead (or ice) whale of the Arctic Ocean, with the lives of several generations of two human families, the Toozaks and the Boyds. Toozak the first, who witnessed Siku's birth, is sworn to protect the great whale, a mission that influences the fate of his family from 1848 through a speculative 2048. Chapters alternate the points of view among members of both families, and of Siku himself, whose name and other whale sounds are rendered in transcribed vibrations. The writing, completed with the help of George's children Craig and Twig, is uneven and sometimes a bit stilted—only one or two characters fully realized. The nature writing fares better, especially the whale's eye-view narrative and the detailed descriptions of underwater travel and sound. Ice Whale is not the author's finest work, but it's a bold, wistful, and heartfelt coda to a distinguished career.—Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library
George’s final novel, completed posthumously by two of her children, begins in 1848 when Toozak, an Eskimo boy, witnesses the birth of Siku, a bowhead whale. It’s an auspicious sight, but when Toozak accidentally leads Yankee whalers to an Eskimo whale-hunting ground, he must make up for his mistake by protecting Siku for the rest of the whale’s life—which can last 200 years. For two centuries, generations of Toozaks wait for the yearly return of the bowheads, diligently warn Siku away from danger, and witness the gradual modernization of their region and the slow decline of traditional practices. In chapters alternating between the Toozaks’ and Siku’s perspectives, George packs in detail about Eskimo traditions—from whale hunting to spirituality—and bowhead behaviors, including communication, some of which is rendered in squiggles representing whale songs. As usual, her research is clearly extensive, and it’s helped along by Hendrix’s informative opening illustrations. Though some human characters are occasionally wooden, this quiet story offers a compelling glimpse into the history of a way of life. Grades 4-7. --Sarah Hunter
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Nature writing was a clear strength for George. According to her website, besides having started to write at the early age of third grade, George came from a family of naturalists. On weekends, the family would camp in the woods near their home, gather edible plants, and climb trees to study owls. Later, George attended Penn State University graduating with a degree in Science and Literature. After her children were born, George returned to her love of nature and brought over 170 wild animals into their home, many of whom became characters in her books. Her love for and expertise of wildlife radiates through all of her animal stories, including Ice Whale.
Told in alternating voices, both human and whale, the latter’s narrative is especially strong. In chapter two, for example, we read how Siku’s mother taught him. She introduced him to the best coastal currents to travel on for migration. She showed him the importance of the sun. The bright rays that shone on the open water were angled—and became his clock and calendar. He learned how to find his way. As an adult, he would one day break ice three feet thick. Such is the early life of a bowhead whale.
Setting is also another clear strength for George. According to her website, George often traveled to the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory in Alaska to visit one of her grown children who serves as a biologist and studies the bowhead whales in Barrows. Her son would take George out to the science camp on the sea ice. There, she slept at -35 below zero, climbed great blocks of ice, and watched the open ocean for bowhead whales. She came to know the Eskimo whaling captains and visited their ice camps. In addition, George ate blubber, carried a gun to scare off polar bears, and dressed like an Eskimo to keep warm. The visits inspired more than one nature novel. Her love for and knowledge of the Inuit people comes through unmistakably in her stories of the cold North, including that of Ice Whale.
One of my favorite scenes is of Emily Toozak, after she becomes lost on an ice floe. In chapter twenty, for example, we read of how her Arctic instincts take over. She learns to make a shelter with a blanket and some broken boards. She tastes small bites of kelp blade. She searches out old ice to find water that is fresh and drained of salt. And then she began to think about how to get home.
Unfortunately, the lack of character development makes for a sometimes difficult read. George attempts to weave an epic tale that spans 200 years and multiple generations whose fate are tied to one whale. Perhaps if Siku’s narrative had taken on more of the center stage. Or perhaps if the curse of the Toozak family had simply been limited to the background story for Emily Toozak. Maybe then I would have felt more connected to this meaningful story.
As Ice Whale stands, I’d recommend first-time readers of Jean Craighead George seek out some of her other more famous works to start. Fans should however treasure her lyrical and wondrous voice. They’ll also appreciate her thought-provoking themes of the circle of life, environmentalism, and friendship. George has left behind a precious legacy, of which Ice Whale is a heartfelt coda.