The Children’s Book Review
Published: August 31, 2012
—A Children’s Book About Orcas Whales—
How 100 Year-Old Granny Leads her Clan
By Dr. Sally Hodson
Illustrated by Ann Jones
ISBN: 978-1-58469-172-3 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-58469-171-6 (hardback)
Ages 4 to 10, fully illustrated, 32 pages
There is a 100 year-old hero living in the deep blue sea of the Pacific Northwest. She is a 7,000-pound great grandmother and an awesome athlete. She has successfully led her beleaguered clan through very tough times, and is their undisputed leader. Meet Granny, an orca (or killer whale), the hero portrayed by a whale expert in a new children’s picture book, Granny’s Clan: A Tale of Wild Orcas.
Based on actual orca (killer whale) research, this book combines science with the real story of how family, friendship, and a grandmother’s love are helping this magnificent but endangered orca clan to survive.
Author Dr. Sally Hodson, formerly executive director of The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Washington, is uniquely qualified to tell this tale. And she tells it from the perspective of two young real-life cousin whales in Granny’s clan.
Illustrator Ann Jones lives on the shore of Orcas Island, Washington, and also knows the whales well. Working with pastels in vibrant color, she was careful to show the whales with their unique fins and color patches so that they are individually identifiable.
Granny babysits, plays with her great-grandchildren, and teaches them much like a human granny would do. The whales have a language with dialects, share food, care for each other, and have traditions that are carried on for generations. “As the matriarch of her clan, Granny carries the critical knowledge needed by her family to survive. She is the heartbeat and the wisdom-keeper for her clan,” says Hodson.
“Once we feared orcas and shot them. Then we became intrigued and captured them to entertain us in marine parks. Next we studied them and found that they are unique individuals who live complex social lives with their families. Now they are endangered and we are trying to save them from threats we created in our shared environment. During the century of her life, Granny has experienced the entire range of human behaviors towards orcas. Yet, unlike many other elders of her clan, she approaches boats and the humans who watch her.
Once Granny swam right alongside the boat Hodson was on. “She lifted her head above
water and held that position while she looked right at me. Making eye contact with a one-hundred year old orca is an experience that cannot be described.”
Granny’s Clan uses actual incidents as the basis for the story. For example, Hodson learned from the captain of a whale-watching ship of a time when the clan was resting close to shore, swimming closely together as they typically do when “asleep.” But two young whale’s weren’t ready for sleep. They were breaching and making lots of noise! So Granny dove down and called the young ones to her, as could be heard on the ship’s hydrophone. She “sang” to them and evidently told them to rest—because all three soon resurfaced and rested quietly!
Hodson was intimately involved in the 2002 rescue and release of Springer, a young and undernourished whale lost in Puget Sound. With huge public support and cooperation among agencies, the young whale was successfully re-united with her clan.
Hodson has also personally received an orca courtesy. While on a kayaking trip, she found herself in the path of Granny’s clan. With their dorsal fins showing, the clan was moving, and she was in the way. Although she tried to paddle close to shore to get out of their path, she suddenly saw that a tall male dorsal fin was headed straight for her kayak. But then the whale saw her, and gently and quietly slid beneath the surface and passed underneath her. “I was traveling in his home environment and he responded with gentleness and respect,” she said.
Hodson, who lives on Orcas Island, Washington, received her doctorate in education in 1979 from the University of Colorado, with a focus on environmental education, ecology, and animal behavior, and worked as a marine naturalist for several years. Detailed information about orcas is in Granny’s Clan as well as on her website, www.sallyhodson.com. Simultaneously with the release of the book, Hodson is also providing numerous free lesson plans and resources for teachers and parents on the publisher’s website, www.dawnpub.com.
Ann Jones is a retired elementary school teacher who has always had a close tie to nature. When she and her husband moved to 20 acres of land in California they planted 40,000 tree seedlings that are now tall trees. In 1992 they retired to Orcas Island where she noticed every detail about the orca whales. “I know how the water moves to make room for them as they dive down or come to the surface. I know how the mist tucks next to the islands in the distance.” She took up her interest in art in a big way. Her pastel paintings are now well known. She has completing commissioned works as well as gallery paintings.
Jones was just getting ready to start painting Granny for this book when she heard the distinctive sound of orcas exhaling. She ran to the shore and there was part of the clan, only about 20 feet away. What an auspicious start!
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