“Everything that Breathes: The Story behind Jonah’s Whale” by Eileen Spinelli
Eileen Spinelli is the author of more than fifty children’s picture books and novels, including Something to Tell the Grandcows, Now It Is Winter, Do You Have a Dog?, and her latest title from Eerdmans: Jonah’s Whale. In this post, she describes why writing from the perspective of Whale was so personally significant for her — and she recalls one highly meaningful (if somewhat unorthodox) performance of her new book.
* * *
All my life I’ve lived no more than two hours from the Atlantic Ocean. As a little girl playing in the surf, I used to fantasize that a whale would pop up from the waves and want to be my friend.
Sometimes I went crabbing with my Aunt Rose and Uncle Pete on their boat. I half wished I would fall overboard because I believed a whale would be there to catch me.
Today a part of my grownup heart still wishes that way.
So it’s not surprising, loving whales as I did, that the tale of Jonah and the Whale was a favorite Bible story of mine. When I began to write stories of my own, whales swam through my head. And this thought came to me: We know about Jonah, but what about the whale? Whales are such beautiful and intelligent creatures — maybe, I thought, somebody should tell the tale from the whale’s point of view.
Maybe, I thought, that somebody should be me.
I thought then of a favorite Bible verse: Let everything that breathes praise the Lord. And I thought: How wonderful must be the breath of a whale!
It occurred to me that swallowing a man must have been as momentous an event for the whale as it was for Jonah.
I found the words for my story in poetry, for poetry seems akin to the rhythm of the sea and weather and storm and to the graceful motion of the whale in water.
When I first saw Guilliano Ferri’s gorgeous illustrations, there were tears in my eyes.
On a recent winter visit to Cape May, New Jersey, I walked down to the beach and sat on a jetty stone and read Jonah’s Whale aloud to the sea. I like to think a whale or two heard it and will soon be weaving it into their songs.
Click “play” below to watch an animated book trailer for Jonah’s Whale from our YouTube channel.