Whale in the Bath is Kylie Westaway’s debut picture book, illustrated by Tom Jellett (published by Allen & Unwin in 2014). Bruno finds himself in a spot of bother when his bath is taken over by a whale – not that anyone in the family believes him. After all, Bruno has a history of telling tales about unusual animals around the house. Despite Bruno’s persistent requests for the whale to get out of his bath, the reluctant whale is too busy brushing his barnacles with bubble bath. Finally, the whale has an idea and treats Bruno to a shower, of sorts.
There is a lot to like about Whale in the Bath and it’s the kind of fun story parents will enjoy sharing with their children. The text is dominated by dialogue, which flows naturally and is easy to read aloud. Much of the magic happens though in the visuals, expertly handled by Tom Jellett. The retro cartoon faces with scribbly cheeks and hair are characteristically Jellett (as seen in several of his other picture books). The larger-than-life whale is also larger than the page, highlighting to young readers the irony of a whale fitting in a bathtub in the first place.
The subtleties in Jellett’s illustrations won’t go unnoticed by astute readers. In particular, the penultimate illustration includes a reference to the bear under the bed, leading the reader to question whether Bruno has actually been telling the truth all along. The visual perspective on the ‘shower’ page is a standout feature, and the krill adorning the endpapers and dotted throughout deserve special mention. Details such as Bruno removing his sock on the title page are also a nice touch, and Bruno then wears only one sock for the entire book.
The layout and positioning of text has been carefully considered throughout the book. In fact, every page features unusual text positioning, bold text, enlarged text or a single word in hand lettered font. Sentences are often curved to reflect the shape of the whale, or placed intentionally to emphasise meaning or context.
Whale in the Bath is bound to become a favourite in many households. Children will identify with Bruno’s character, and will love the way Westaway and Jellett blur the lines between imagination and reality. Highly recommended for ages 3-6, and anyone who doesn’t like bath time.
Catherine Oehlman is a teacher, writer and literacy consultant. She is currently studying for her Masters in Children’s Literature and blogs at Squiggle Books. Follow her on Twitter at @SquiggleBooks.