The Last Bear - Hannah Gold’s debut - was one of my stand-out reads of 2021 and quite rightly, in my opinion, won the Blue Peter Book Award and the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. So her second book had some very big paw-prints to follow in. I needn’t have worried, along came White Beak with rainbow hearts in her breath.
With his mum struggling with her mental health and hospitalised, Rio finds himself heading to California to stay with a grandmother he barely knows. Ocean Bay is definitely not home and his stay is lonely and frustrating until he meets Marina, a carefree girl who invites him on her dad’s whale watching trips. Seeing White Beak, a grey whale, sparks something inside of Rio and when she vanishes he must venture out into the vast ocean to find the whale that he hopes can save his mum…
Like The Last Bear, The Lost Whale is another remarkable, important and heartfelt animal tale that firmly tugs at the heartstrings. April and Bear have been swapped out for Rio and White Beak, the polar ice caps replaced by the ocean, and the Arctic gives way to the sunnier climes of west coast USA. With the ocean providing the soundtrack, it is a beautifully written story of a boy, a whale and a special bond that will change everything. Accompanied by the sublime illustrations of Levi Pinfold that will be met with gasps of awe and wonder, this is another outstanding read that is sure to have Gold’s name on the award shortlists once again.
Full of raw emotions, the battle to deal with mental health problems and the struggles of a child-carer simmer on the surface. And as mum and Rio struggle to stay afloat, hope comes in the form of the most majestic of creatures, White Beak - a whale facing her own struggles because of human activity. What begins as a healing journey in London for mum becomes a therapeutic journey for Rio as he follows in his mum’s whale-watching footsteps and discovers the wonders of nature, the thrill and awe of whale-watching and a connection beyond his wildest dreams.
The story is utterly captivating and once I started I was unable to stop; the short chapters keep the narrative bobbing nicely along before a climatic and suspenseful ending. It is a wonderful animal adventure in to which Gold seamlessly weaves information on whales, the environment and conservation. Characters demand our empathy, the whales and their ocean home need our understanding and action. Whilst never preachy, we are all implored to care for the oceans and to take responsibility for human actions. ’Awareness is the heart of change.’
As the tide ebbs and flows, hope overcomes helplessness, nature triumphs over humans, and family, friendship and love conquer all; Hannah Gold offers rainbow heart-shaped hope in every sense. Children care about the environment and if White Beak and Rio teach us anything it is that little actions, big hearts and strong minds striving for a better world can be the difference, can bring about change and can make the oceans safer, ultimately saving the precious animals that call them home.
Like the aforementioned White Beak, The Lost Whale, with its strong environmental focus, will make a huge splash amongst the selection of fiction reads for children and is a must read for young environmentalists and conservationists. Environmentally conscious writing at its absolute best. ‘None of us can save the world single-handedly. But together we might just stand a chance.’
With huge thanks to Harper Collins for the copy I received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Recommended for 9+.
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