Telling family stories is one of the great – and most enjoyable – keys to adolescent resilience. But, just as reading doesn’t come easily to all families, telling family stories can also sometimes feel stilted, difficult or even disingenuous.
Waiting for the Whales makes a really nice stepping stone to family storytelling.
It’s about a grandfather living a simple life of gardening and watching the seasons.
He contributes to his community by sharing his produce, he shares the knowledge that he's accumulated over a lifetime and he watches for the whales. “It seemed to him that there was nothing more wonderful than these great mammals of the sea.”
The story is simply told and the grandfather doesn’t have one particular shining moment – instead, it’s the collection of many small moments that make his life worth learning about and listening to.
He has a daughter and, in the course of time, she returns home with a baby girl; his granddaughter.
This moment isn’t presented as pivotal in the grandfather’s life, it’s just a part of the whole.
The baby grows to a little girl and she comes to love her grandfather and to love the things he loves – the whales, the forest, his garden.
Eventually and inevitably, the grandfather dies and his daughter and granddaughter find comfort in the Orcas that he loved to watch out for each summer.
One of the things that make this story a great stepping stone to telling family stories is that it celebrates normalcy. The important part of the grandfather’s story wasn’t his work, his war service, his feats of derring-do, or his marvellous creativity - it was his love of the whales, his love of gardening and his love of family.
The impact of the little girl on her grandfather is comforting and reassuring – children are important in the lives of adults too - and the story is also about grief and the inevitability of change and loss. And overcoming to feel joy again.
This is a picture book to prompt one's own family stories – it leads easily to thoughts and memories, so 'after' conversations may flow along these lines:
'Funny how grumpy the grandfather was at first, hey. Maybe grandpas are just like that sometimes'; or
'Gee I love being at the ocean – I remember when my mum used to take me to the beach camping'; or
'That grandfather sure did love gardening – my grandfather loved ....'; or
'I remember the first time I showed you to grandma'; or
'I was so sad when your grandfather died, I can really understand how the little girl felt'; or
'You know, we should really write down some of things we love to do with ........'
And so on.
Here's one small snippet from Waiting for the Whales that I particularly liked -
"The old man grumbled something about noisy babies.
But when he held the tiny infant, something deep within him stirred.
And he remembered holding his own children when they were small."
This is a wonderful book for young whale lovers, and the light-filled and often poignant illustrations make the family's life feel very real and accessible.