Dear Professor Whale
There’s something sweet and endearing about Dear Professor Whale, the follow-up to the charming Yours Sincerely, Giraffe. Maybe it’s because the retired professor is an aging whale who, at this late stage in life, is a bit lonely because his parents and grandparents are gone, because all his friends have left Whale Point and he never married, or because his only student at Whale Point School was a penguin from Penguin Island who left to meet his pen pal—a giraffe in Africa—and ends up with a nickname. The big (and small) things we long for.
Professor Whale hopes to discover new friends by sending letters to “You Whoever You Are Who Lives on the Other Side of the Horizon,” although in the beginning, he seems to have forgotten this. When Pelican delivers a letter, Professor Whale wonders what has happened to Seal, who usually delivers mail. Pelican tells him that Seal had to deliver letters a long way away. “‘Poor Seal. Who on earth could have sent him so far away?’ the Professor wondered. ‘Well, I mean to say . . . wasn’t it you, sir?’ Indeed it was.”
The professor receives a letter from Wally at Otto Island, who turns out to be the grandson of an old whale friend of the professor. Even better, all those letters find their way to the professor’s old friends who come back for a giant whale reunion. Together they decide to revive the Whale Point Olympics, which include a swimming race for the seals, a walking race for the penguins, and a spouting contest for the whales. Shark and barracuda events are noticeably absent. Perhaps this is a good thing.
The games turn out to be more than just lively competition. Each one is a mini reminder that caring for others is more important than a gold medal. While some adults may find this theme annoying in its political correctness, it’s a logical conclusion to this gentle story about friendship, teamwork, and empathy. And really, these days, what young (or old) reader wouldn’t benefit from a little more of these qualities?
The story pace, though, is slow and it meanders. It begins with Professor Whale contemplating how much he loves the color blue and what it would be like to fly. “‘I would need wings,’ he thought to himself. Enormous wings to match his enormous body. And they would be blue, too, of course!” Conversations about mail follow, then there’s the reunion, and finally the Whale Point Olympics. Even through the Olympics, though, the tension never really builds. The reader quickly scoots through each event. It’s a missed opportunity even for early readers.
A wonderfully redeeming feature is that nearly every page includes a whimsical pen and ink illustration by Jun Takabatake. The pages without an illustration carry handwritten snail-mail letters that are delivered by Pelican, the hardworking delivery bird, or Seal, who handles sea mail deliveries.
Along with the many illustrations, young readers will appreciate the simple sentence structure and vocabulary. Early chapter book readers will find the chapters are bite-size in the amount of text. Yet the same reader can feel a sense of accomplishment in the number of pages covered. The pages have plenty of white space, which also contributes to more comfortable reading. One small nit is that the font size could have been slightly larger without compromising the number of pages or even the white space. Small things do make a difference for young readers.
Ultimately, even with the slower pace, the light humor, age appropriate text, and engaging illustrations will keep young readers engaged.