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Moby-Dick: An Ocean Primer: 02/03/16

Moby-Dick: An Ocean Primer by Jennifer Adams

Moby-Dick: Or the White Whale by Herman Melville has a reputation of being one of those books, the ones that are too long, too difficult, too obtuse for the average reader. It's a book that only literary geeks and stuffed shirts like. It's the book that everyone else pretends to read. Well, that's it's reputation, anyway.

And yet, it's also a book that's constantly referenced. The white whale, the sign of the ultimate in obsession personified, appears in all sorts of places, even in Futurama, for example. If not the whale, then Ahab. There's a little bit of Ahab in Captain Nemo (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne), for instance.

The Captain

But Moby-Dick is actually a delightfully silly parody, a tongue in cheek exploration of the adventure genre, the whaling industry, with some homo-eroticism thrown in for good measure. It's one of those books that has gotten a bad reputation for being too serious and too difficult. A good illustrated version turns the ponderous novel into something close to a very long graphic novel.

And while it's one of my favorites of the classics, I wouldn't think it would translate well into a board book for the 0-2 years old set. And yet, Moby-Dick: An Ocean Primer by Jennifer Adams does exactly that and brilliantly.

I'm not sure if these classics as board books will inspire children to try the classics when they're older, but they are certainly fun to read as a parent.

In thinking about the distilled essence of Moby-Dick, there are some key scenes. There's Ishmael deciding to go to sea and hooking up with Ahab's crew. Basically it's the introduction of the dramatis personae.


Then there's the ship and the day to day business of whaling. There's a lot of time between hunts and a lot of time for Ishmael to think about the sea, and whales, and to argue about the details.

Some might see these chapters arguing about whether or not whales are fish and the ones describing all the different kinds of whales as padding. But they are part of the heart and soul of the novel. They are what turn an otherwise simplistic tale of a crew stuck with an insanely obsessive captain chasing a sperm whale that may or may not exist, into something special. (So if you do read the book, and want to actually enjoy it, read the filler chapters!)


So how does Jennifer Adams handle the "I speak whale" chapters? As any board book author would:

Finally, Moby-Dick wouldn't be Moby-Dick, without, well, Moby-Dick. As any horror aficionado knows, the character who insists that the monster is real is always right (or he comes to realize that he is in fact, the monster).

The whale

Five stars

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