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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

An amazing true story about a whale that attacked a whaleboat and what happened to the crew.

Philbrick, Nathaniel  (2003) Revenge of the Whale;  The True Story of the Whaleship Essex.  New York:  Scholastic.

November 20, 1820 -- the Whaleship Essex, having had no luck finding whales in the overfished Atlantic and South Pacific runs, has been trying the new equatorial grounds  due west of the Galapagos Islands.  Having sighted a pod of whales, they have unshipped the smaller whaleboats and gone off in pursuit, leaving a skeleton crew aboard the ship.  Suddenly a gigantic bull whale surfaces some distance away, builds up speed, and rams the side of the ship so hard that the crewmen can feel the ships timbers and mast rattle.  The whale, circles around, builds up speed again and rams the ship again.  This time the side of the vessel gives a bit.  Before the crewmen can think of what to do, a final attack finishes the ship.  When I finished that chapter, I think my mouth was hanging open in astonishment.  I mean, I have read Moby Dick, but I had no idea that something like this had ever happened. 

When the rest of the crew out on the whaleboats turn back, their ship is nearly underwater.  They salvage what they can, then find themselves in three tiny boats hundreds of miles from land with little food and limited navigation equipment. And there begins the second part of this amazing story.

This would be a remarkable story even if it weren't true.  The fact that it is makes it even more gripping.  This is an example of an informational book (that would fit equally well in a history or language arts classroom) that will be as interesting to many of your students as the best fiction offerings.  The only caution I would offer is that the crew, toward the end of their desperate journey, cannibalize the crewmen who die of starvation.  It is handled well in the book, but might merit a caution for more squeamish readers. 

If you are looking for a well-told tale that will grab your students (anywhere from fifth or sixth grade on up) and build up your non-fiction library, this is it.

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