The Whale’s Garden
A stunning story about a whale who has a garden installed around the fountain on his back
The whale already has a fountain, but he’s missing a garden to go around it. So he writes to the grasshopper, who takes a huge pile of gardening equipment to the middle of the ocean and creates a pleasure garden on the whale’s back, full of hollyhocks, honeysuckle, and apple trees and “a shed with a little window with cobwebs and a door that sticks”.
Toon Tellegen writes delightful animal stories in an accessible yet layered style, and Annemarie van Haeringen, with her distinctive, dancing lines, is one of the best illustrators in the Netherlands. They have already demonstrated that the combination of their talents results in amazing picture books, with Plotseling ging de olifant aan (Suddenly the Elephant Lit Up, 2004) and Wat dansen we heerlijk (What a Wonderful Dance, 2010). Their latest collaboration, The Whale’s Garden, is another stunning book.
This book contains beautiful sentences, which gently turn the world upside down. The beetle wants to buy a table at the grasshopper’s shop “to lay his head on when he wanted to feel sad about something” and the cricket would like a hat “that he could throw high into the air when he had something to celebrate”. Those are excellent alternative uses for tables and hats and, yes, sometimes you do actually want to be sad.
The whale has a mirror to admire his garden in and, for a while, he’s full of joy. But then Tellegen steers towards the lesson of this fable: the whale can no longer leap up when he’s happy, or lie on his back to look at the stars. In short, he can’t be himself, and is the garden really worth that much to him?
The cheerful illustrations contain amusing details. Van Haeringen alternates between small illustrations with plenty of white space and full-page pictures. It is extraordinary how she makes her lines flow into the water of the sea and how she plays with colour: the ocean changes from black and grey to bright blue and soft yellow and even white in one picture where the sky is grass green.