Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Whale in Paris

Presley, Daniel and Polders, Claire. A Whale in Paris
May 22nd 2018 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Life is difficult for Chantal and her father at the end of World War II in Paris. Liberation seems like it may come at any time, but for now, the two must work around the German soldiers stationed around town as they try to catch fish for their market. Chantal misses her mother, who died in a horrible boat accident because her Aunt Sophie, who lives in Normandy and provides fish for the family to sell, was too drunk to keep up with the business and Chantal's mother went out in the boat with a storm approaching in order to get fish. After several nights of not having any catches, Chantal discovers that there is a small whale living in the Seine. She doesn't know how this happened, but she tells several people and soon the German officers are interrogating her, since she first suspected it was a submarine. When the whale turns out to be a harmless diversion, the German soldiers let Chantal give local children rides on the whale, whom she names Franklin, after the US president. Aided by Private Schroeder, a young, kind German who has a sister Chantal's age back home, Chantal manages to keep the whale safe. Times are hard, however, and when her Aunt Sophie comes to town, Chantal realizes that there is a resistance movement to the Nazis. Eventually, her father and aunt are arrested, and the local people, who have hardly any food at all, decide to eat Franklin. Chantal takes off down the river, hoping to make it to Rouen to release Franklin and also try to find her father and aunt.
Strengths: I really enjoyed all of the details about Nazi occupied Paris. The lack of food, the difficulties children faced in going to school and going about their daily lives, the presence of German soldiers-- this is all good stuff. These are details that young readers don't necessarily know, and are very valuable.
Weaknesses: The senseless death of the mother, and Chantal's constant grieving, did not add anything to this story. By this point in the war, there were probably very few people in Europe who had NOT lost at least one family member, and Chantal's reactions would no doubt have been more informed by this grim reality.
What I really think: This might be more of an elementary school story than a middle school one. Is it fantasy? The whale seems to understand Chantal and communicate with her through nodding and sounds. I really wish there had been some kind of historical note on this one. My 8th graders who need to read a book about World War II or the Holocaust will find this a bit confusing, so I am debating purchase. It might be good to have on hand for sensitive readers who can't handle something like Night or Gratz's Prisoner B-3087.

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