Orcas Forever invites young readers to watch the activities of the three Southern Resident orca pods that inhabit the waters called the Salish Sea between the northwest coast of the United States, and the southwest coast of Canada. They are preparing to gather for a special celebration-–––the birth of a male calf. Following a greeting ceremony, the orcas rejoice in their own unique ways. They display fancy breaching, sky-hop in synch and play games of tail lobbying. Orcas Forever highlights the threats that these nearly extinct orcas confront from human interference and how these threats are linked to some of our environmental problems.
Using scientific observations as her starting point, Mahoney depicts the reunion of the J, K and L pods as a joyous and raucous celebration of their return from the Pacific Ocean to their home base in the Salish Sea (bordered by Washington State and British Columbia). The exquisite illustrations of Ginger Triplett are especially important during this meeting of the pods, as she can take a moment that might sound menacing—orcas displaying their six foot high dorsal fins in what looks like a standoff—and turns it instead into a rousing celebration of movement, with swirling water cresting into white.
Triplett renders the orcas’ emotional life without anthropomorphism, inviting young readers into an luminous realm of seaweed and jellyfish, where sunbeams create glowing shafts, followed by a scene of orcas exuberantly leaping from the water to dance in the sunlight, their massive bodies briefly, seemingly weightless. Wildlife nonfiction with a strong current of empathy is Mahoney’s forte, and her orca books have a particular urgency. Presenting orcas as inherently social creatures, with sophisticated systems of communication and navigation, Mahoney makes a heartfelt plea for their preservation, and for a healthy ecosystem where all underwater life can thrive.
Takeaway: This rousing tale of orca families makes compassionate environmentalism hit home.
Great for fans of: Amanda Abler’s The Spirit of Springer, Sharon Mentyka’s Chasing at the Surface, and Rosanne Parry’s A Whale of the Wild.
Design and typography: B+
Marketing copy: A-