Book review: The Boy and the Whale, by Mordicai Gerstein

Gerstein, Mordicai. The Boy and the Whale. Roaring Brook Press, 2017. Unpaged. $17.99. ISBN 9781626725058. Ages 5-8. P8Q10

A boy and his father discover a whale tangled in their only fishing net. The father suggests that they wait for the whale to die and then try to salvage the net. The boy, remembering when he almost drowned from being entangled in a net, disobeys his father, taking the family’s fishing boat, freeing the whale, and destroying the net in the process.  Caldecott Medal winner Mordicai Gerstein created luminous paintings that show warm sunlight bathing a poor village and contrasting dappled light shining through ocean waves, carrying a sense of hope for not only the whale, but for father and son.

Verdict: The traits of courage and empathy shine through this timely story. Be prepared to discuss the issues raised with child readers. Highly recommended for elementary school and public library collections.

September 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: The Sleeping Gypsy, by Mordicai Gerstein

Gerstein, Mordicai. The Sleeping Gypsy. Holiday House, 2016. $16.95. ISBN 9780823421428. Unp. Ages 3-8. P7Q9

gerstein-sleeping-gypsyArt is subjective. Both the assumed value of a particular work of art, and the story said to have inspired the artist to create it, are often invented by observers. The inherent subjectivity of art is at the center of Mordicai Gerstein’s The Sleeping Gypsy. This illustrated book is named for the late nineteenth century work by French painter Henri Rousseau. A girl encounters the painting in a museum—supposedly MoMA where the painting currently hangs—and questions the Gypsy’s story. In Gerstein’s explanation, the Gypsy, whose origin remains a mystery, comes to Rousseau in a lucid dream. The lion is just one of several animals who approach the Gypsy and wonder about her as she sleeps. According to the story, Rousseau’s original painting included all of the animals, but each was eliminated after compromising the painter’s creativity. Gerstein’s genesis story passes the subjectivity of art from the observer to the observed, making the subject of the painting ponder its own evolution. The Sleeping Gypsy is effectively illustrated in Rousseau’s highly recognizable style and palette, as if Rousseau painted his own dreams. It is creatively written using interesting figurative language. A short biography of Henri Rousseau is located in the Author’s Note on the last page of the book.

Verdict: Fans of Rousseau’s work, or post-impressionists in general will enjoy this book regardless of age. This would be a useful addition to an elementary art appreciation curriculum.

February 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.