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Johnny DePalma
52 - A Tale of Loneliness
Spark conversations of empathy, joy, and self-acceptance, in what critic are calling; “Poignant,” “Original,” “A beautiful tale for all ages.” and “A joy to read!” Inspired by the incredible true story of the 52 Hz whale. "Like that! The sunlight trickles down, on bubbles rising from the ground. Or here! The way the water swirled. There's so much beauty in this world." Follow along as 52 introduces us the magic and the beauty of his own invisible world. Link included for a downloadable companion audiobook, read by Patton Oswalt.
A singular whale with a mysterious tale inspired this contemplative picture book that dives deep into the ocean’s vast beauty and the rewards of a solitary existence. The real-life whale 52 was identified by Navy technicians who were monitoring sound waves in the Pacific Ocean, and detected an unusually high-pitched (52 hertz) whale song that always went unanswered by other whales. Since whales communicate on lower frequencies, 52 was unheard (and thereby invisible), and was eventually called “the loneliest whale in the world.” DePalma (The Raindrop Keeper) skips over this origin story, focusing instead on this pensive creature resigned to living without companionship.

Illustrator Kyle Brown, in his third collaboration with DePalma (after The Night Parade and Krampus: A Holiday Message), opts for expressive personality over species authenticity. 52 is jaunty and soulful (“It’s true I’m happy, / and yet blue.”), with cerulean skin and a white ridged underside that curves into a jutting lower lip. Shifting the whale’s position and features, Brown imbues 52 with an impressive emotional range that perfectly complements the text’s meditative musings. A lighthouse keeper’s poetry serves as an introduction, but young readers could just as easily plunge right into the whale’s point of view.

DePalma makes a repeating motif of “the ocean is a beautiful thing,” and this sentiment is emphasized by Brown’s glorious, textured pastels and watercolors. 52’s environment is full of plant life, rock formations, and other sea creatures, and the light shifts from sharp shafts slicing through water to glowing eddies floating on the dark ocean floor. While happy to someday play with other whales, 52 finds real joy in focused exploration (“There’s more to see when you’re alone”). The winsome, self-aware whale of this “tale of loneliness" will encourage young readers to view isolation as an opportunity to observe and reflect without distraction.

Takeaway: The lonely whale that intrigued scientists and inspired artists offers young readers encouragement to pursue creative alone time.

Great for fans of: Lynne Kelly’s Song for a Whale, Anna Pignataro’s The Heart of a Whale.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: B+
Illustrations: A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: B

Kirkus Review

"A whimsically illustrated, poetic ode to aloneness and self-acceptance... Author, DePalma and illustrator, Brown create a hero with whom young readers will identify."

“DePalma effectively validates feelings that are relatable to children of various ages… Although 52 experiences loneliness and sometimes feels invisible, he still sings, and his tale is not a sad one. This good-natured whale exemplifies themes of self-acceptance, individuality, contentment, empathy, bravery, and joy.”  

Reader's Favorite

"A joy to read. Five Stars!"

Rome Independent Prisma Awards

“Profound… original.”

Terra Jolé, “Dancing with the Stars”

“This book is a wonderful way for children to feel content with who they are. This speaks loudly to me as a mother isolating her family through the pandemic. Embracing a world you're creating for yourself is a powerful message in a children book.”

The Children’s Book Review

“Poignant… A beautiful tale for all ages.”