Karen Swann - A Lion & Dragonfly Interview
The oceans are truly a beautiful, wondrous place. I wanted to reflect that in the whale’s journey and to show it through the eyes of someone experiencing it all for the first time, as I once did.
- Karen Swann
We adore the brilliantly illustrated gem The Tale of the Whale. A child joins a friendly whale for a magical journey of discovery. They sail the blue ocean, dance with dolphins, and tail-splash seagulls. But the child also sees an ocean filled with plastic trash. And that inspires a promise of help, for the whale and all earth’s creatures. We were thrilled that author Karen Swann took the time to answer a few of our questions about this extraordinary book!
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind Tale of the Whale?
I began writing The Tale of the Whale after becoming more aware of environmental issues such as plastic pollution and our overconsumption of single-use plastic. I was beginning to make changes in the way that we, as a family, shopped and used products. I remember thinking about the mascara in a plastic tube that I was using and that the whales didn’t have a choice whether I had long black lashes or not, but I did! I wanted to write something that looked at the issue of plastic in the ocean from the whale’s perspective. What would they want us to know?
But it’s not enough to just say ‘there’s a problem’ without referencing the reasons why we should care. I have been fortunate enough to dive in some of the most stunning areas of the world, including the Great Barrier Reef. The oceans are truly a beautiful, wondrous place. I wanted to reflect that in the whale’s journey and to show it through the eyes of someone experiencing it all for the first time, as I once did. By putting the story into the child’s voice, I hoped that whoever was reading or listening to the story would experience the journey for themselves and perhaps as a result would feel some connection and desire to make a difference.
What do you hope your audience takes away from reading Tale of the Whale?
The story ends with the child making the whale a promise – to tell the whole land – and asks us all to be a part of the change that needs to happen. Children are great empathizers and naturally ask the most important questions that make us all think! I would like to hope that The Tale of the Whale might pave the way for discussions about the beauty of our oceans and the way that we share our world and live together within it, and that we, as adults, might find we are able to listen.
What is your favorite page of this book and why?
It’s too tough to pick just one! I love the page with the child reaching out a hand towards the whale as we first meet this fantastic friendly looking giant. I also love the ‘arches’ spread – Padmacandra’s artwork is stunning and this is a beautifully colorful and detailed spread. All that said, I do have a soft spot for the polar bears on the back cover!
What is your favorite place to write?
I’m lucky to have a writing corner in our house with a huge old pantry cupboard filled with my collection of picture books and an old Victorian scrub top table. When everyone is out and it’s quiet in the house, that is my favorite place to be.
What children’s book (other than your own) are you recommending to friends at the moment?
I absolutely adore Maybe by Kobi Yamada and Gabriella Barouch. It is stunningly illustrated with the most heartfelt words exploring the endless potential in us all, and I gift it to everyone from new babies to 21st birthdays!
My other top recommendation that I think everyone on the planet should read is The Arrival by Shaun Tan – a wordless wonder from a master storyteller.
For older readers, I love anything by Katya Balen or Keiran Millwood Hargrave, and my latest book read that I loved was Cress Watercress by Gregory Maguire with beautiful illustrations by David Litchfield.
What do you think are the ingredients for a great children’s book?
The best children’s books for me have that magic ingredient, that hard to define element, that tugs at your heartstrings and moves you to feel something. Picture books in particular are unique in the world of reading in that they tell stories through both the spoken words and the visual experience, and they are often brought to our youngest readers through a shared time with a trusted grown-up, something that should never be underestimated. They give us a wonderful opportunity to explore emotions and feelings and to understand the world better. Any book that fosters empathy and understanding is a winner in my eyes!
What is one thing people may not know about you?
I sing very loudly (and very badly) in the kitchen when I’m baking and the house is empty!
- Abby Gallagher with Karen Swann