Perfect Picture Book Friday: Pipaluk and the Whales

Author/Illustrator: John Himmelman
Publication Info: Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Children’s Books, Feb. 1, 2002
Genre: Fiction, but based on a true story
Intended audience: Ages 4-8
Themes/topics: Perserverance, nature, animals, history, geography (Arctic circle)
Synopsis and opening line: Pipaluk and the Whales is a fictionalized account of a true story. In December 1984, several thousand beluga whales were trapped in a hole in the ice off Russia’s Chukchi Peninsula. An icebreaker reached the whales after nearly three months, but the whales refused to head out to sea — until the icebreaker played classical music. John Himmelman’s protagonist is the fictional Pipaluk, a native girl who discovers the whales as she journeys home from a hunting trip with her father. After the icebreaker arrives, it’s Pipaluk’s singing that first moves the whales out to sea. Her song inspires the icebreaker to play music and lead the whales to safety. Himmelmans’ story begins:
“The night was bitter cold. Pipaluk shivered, but she did not complain.”
Resources: Himmelman includes a note in the back with picture of the real story. In addition, there are number of helpful classroom resources relating to this book. For students in grades 3 through 5, a conflict/resolution lesson can be found…..here. An Inuit and the Arctic lesson plan can be found…..here. For parents and teachers alike, National Geographic has a comprehensive beluga whale page with audio….here. Find their kids’ version of the page with maps, video and sound ….here.
Why I like this book: The visual of thousands of whales trapped in the ice is compelling, however I think the most moving part of this book is a community that works together day and night to save helpless creatures. Pipaluk’s family could easily have killed the trapped whales and had enough food for weeks. However, they respected the whales too much to slaughter them. This book goes a long way toward helping children learn to respect nature.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.


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29 responses to “Perfect Picture Book Friday: Pipaluk and the Whales

  1. Oooh…love any story with marine mammals. Hope my kids aren’t sick of them. :) This one sounds great, especially because it’s based on a true story.

  2. I was sold just by looking at the cover, and that first sentence is fabulous. I know the facts of this story and believe I would love this fictional version very much! Super choice.

  3. Oh, this book sounds wonderful Kirsten! Just your description of it made me feel misty :) I love “based on true stories” – they’re so always so amazing – and a story where a community works together to save the whales just seems like it has lots to offer on many levels. Love all the great resources, too. Thanks so much for sharing this worthy addition to our list!!!

  4. An awesome story. It sounds so similar to the new movie “Big Miracle,” based on a true story about whales being trapped in ice near Barrow, Alaska. Stars Drew Barrymore. The National Guard gets involved at President Regan’s direction, and so does a Russian ships that help break the ice. It also involves huge community involvement . If it is a different story, than your timing on reveiwing the book and the release of the movie is remarkable. Nice choice. I love stories like this.

  5. I had the same thought as Pat did about the movie coming out. John Krasinski is in it and I just love him on The Office. I wonder if it is the same story? Definitely going to get this one. Thanks!

  6. This book sounds like the new movie Big Miracle that I have been wanting to see. What a compelling tale that is both entertaining and educational. I have several books in my library about the Inuit people. This one would make a great addition. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Hi Kelly! It is very similar. However, upon further research, Big Miracle is gray whales in Barrows, Alaska in 1988 vs. belugas near Russian in 1984. But, hey, whichever movie John Krasinski is in is good enough for me.

  7. What a wonderful story — and that it’s based on a true story makes it even more wonderful. Thank you for sharing it. I find it so moving, and exciting, that it was music that got the whales moving in the right direction.

  8. Pingback: Animal A to Z Picture Book Recommendations for Great Summer Reading « Positive Parental Participation·

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