Special thanks to Jennifer O’Connell for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – The Eye of the Whale: A Rescue Story
Jennifer O’Connell grew up in Darien, Connecticut and received her BFA degree in illustration from Philadelphia College of Art (now known as The University of the Arts). She was employed at Unicorn Graphics in Washington, DC before becoming a free-lance illustrator and designer. Jennifer’s picture book, Ten Timid Ghosts, is a New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today bestseller and has sold more than 780,000 copies. Her new book, The Eye of the Whale has received the Green Earth Book Award, a Moonbeam Gold Award, a Maryland Blue Crab Honor, and has been named an Honor Book by the Society of School Librarians International in the Language Arts – Picture Book category. It was a Maine Literary Awards Finalist and has been selected by RIF (Reading is Fundamental) for their STEAM list. – Adapted from Jennifer’s Homepage
Jennifer’s Homepage: http://www.jenniferoconnellart.com
#1 – What was the impetus for The Eye of the Whale?
I received a viral email about an extraordinary whale rescue that took place off the California coast. The whale was so entangled in crab trap lines and weighted down by heavy crab traps that she was struggling to stay at the surface to breathe. She was spotted by a fisherman, near the Farallon Islands, an area known for its large population of great white sharks. Despite the danger involved, the rescue crew decided to go in the water to try and free her. As the four divers cut the lines, they sensed that the whale knew that they were helping her; they could feel her huge eye watching their every move.
The divers miraculously were able to cut all the lines and were spellbound by what happened next. The whale swam in seemingly joyous circles, round and round the divers. Then she swam up to each of the divers and gently nudged them, one by one, and looked at them. This behavior seemed to reflect deep intelligence and emotional capability. The divers all say that they will never be the same and that it was one of the most fantastic moments of their lives.
The story so inspired me (literally gave me goose bumps) that I decided to create a picture book about it, so that children of all ages would also be moved, changed, inspired and excited by it!
#2 – The event you write about in the book was a true event. How did you do your research for the text and for the illustrations?
I read many articles about the event. I then traveled to California and interviewed one of the divers, James Moskito, who gave me a minute-by-minute account of the rescue and provided many important details. He created a clay model of the whale and used embroidery thread to show me how it was tangled up, which was a big help, as they had no underwater photos of the rescue. I also interviewed two other crew members, including Mick Menigoz, the captain of the rescue boat, Superfish. Mick took me out on the boat to the location where the rescue took place, 18 miles off the coast of California.
I looked at many photos of humpbacks while illustrating the whale in its different positions. I also photographed several neighbors who posed as models for the people featured in the book. One neighbor let me photograph him in a nearby pool and in borrowed scuba gear. I wanted the illustrations to feel real.
#3 – How did you go about putting this story together for children?
I started with a very long story and then realized that a lot of it could be told without words, through my illustrations. So, I edited and revised. It was a painful process! One thousand words became 700, then 500, then 389. I worked out how I was going to tell the story within the structure of a picture book by creating a storyboard. I drew out roughly sketched illustration spreads of the entire 32-page picture book on one large piece of paper.
#4 – What feedback have you had to your book?
Everyone has been so excited to learn about this story, and I am happy that I created a book about it. James Moskito, the master diver who I interviewed, said that The Eye of the Whale “told the story 500%!”
It was thrilling when the book received great reviews and a wonderful endorsement from Jane Goodall. She wrote “this true story of courage and compassion is brought to life by stunning illustrations…” The full quote can be found on the back of the book’s cover. I was also gratified when the book won the 2014 Green Earth Book Award, among other honors.
#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?
I have a book coming out next year entitled Harvest Hoedown! (But don’t tell the farmers.) I’m also developing a book about a very unique dog.
[Image Credit: http://childrenslit.com/wp-content/uploads/pictures/oconnell-jennifer.jpg ]