Brennan’s text has found a perfect match in Tanner’s illustrations here. There is a sense of performance as we are led from an ordinary, calm seaside scene on the front cover, to the drama of a dark, brooding seascape on the back cover. Delicate pencil sketches evolve through gentle watercolours and pastels into magnificent storm and underwater scenes, back to a benign seaside image, and then on to that dramatic back cover. The covers alone would lend themselves to discussion and prediction: what has happened between these two scenes? The illustrations as a whole could be seen as an orchestral piece in several movements – from a gentle overture, through climactic discovery, to an oddly disrupting fire-lit scene and a dramatic finale.
Tanner’s work complements and extends Brennan’s beautiful story of three little girls who discover a beached whale and do what they can to save it. The immensity of the task is matched by the immensity of the whale. They are bound to fail… Brennan uses almost archaic language to tell her story: ‘dark as a demon, dull of eye, waiting in silence to drift … or die’. So much is unsaid in the text yet expanded in the drawings – for example the flotsam and jetsam on the beach on the morning after the storm. But here too there are gaps to be filled: children are provided with lots of reasons to linger.
With such a gorgeous rhyming text this book begs to be read aloud and shared.