Breathe written and illustrated by Scott Magoon (2014) is a delightful and beautiful children’s book about a young whale learning how to be a whale. Each page of Breathe contains a colorful and perceptive illustration with a simple instruction for the whale calf (who is never named, but who is described as “little whale” on the first page). The instructions are presumably given by the calf’s mother, who is featured throughout the book as a consistent and loving presence around the young whale. The instructions given by the mother whale range from “Play all day” to “love” to, of course, “Breathe.” Based on these instructions and others, Breathe features advice to human children learning to explore the earth on two or four limbs as much as it comments on the life of a whale learning to swim through the ocean depths.
Breathe is simplistic yet extraordinary, and this unlikely combination is best demonstrated through the interaction of text and illustration. The book’s text is appropriate for young children because it features a minimal amount of words and straightforward instructions without shying away from words that may seem mildly out of reach for a baby, toddler, or preschooler. On each page we see the “little whale” smile, fearless, as he fulfills the wishes set forth in the text. The result is a positive yet subtle theme of exploration and living a life of joy.
The illustrations in Breathe are sure to captivate the attention of young children. Toddlers and preschoolers will love following along with the story through the illustrations, and children just learning how to read may find that Breathe makes a good starting point. Children of all backgrounds will love diving right into a new world with the “little whale,” while youngsters familiar with the Arctic will love seeing their beloved animals come to life on a page. Yet, as much as Breathe captivates, it also soothes, making it a perfect bedtime story. I suspect Scott Magoon had the bedtime setting in mind when he wrote the last lines: “Sleep deep tonight,” and “Breathe.”
— Lauren Heyano