The Star Whale by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Petr Horáček

The Star Whale by Nicola Davies – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: Poetry, animals, nature, art, joy.
Children’s book title: The Star Whale.
Children’s author: Nicola Davies.
Children’s illustrator: Petr Horáček.
Genre: Poetry.
Published by: Otter-Barry Books.
ISBN: 9781915659095.
Recommended for children aged: 6+ year-olds.
First published: Hardback September 2023.
This children’s book is ideal for: Poetry and animal lovers of all ages.

The Star Whale by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Petr Horáček

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The Star Whale by Nicola Davies spread 1

Our review:

The Star Whale is a collection of 40 poems by the School Library Association award-winning writer Nicola Davies. Lavishly illustrated, with one poem presented per double page spread, the verses are united by a common thread of seeing the beauty in the world around us.

The poems vary in subject matter from the need to protect endangered species to magical midnight rides with the Queen of the Fishes. The animals featured range from the ‘small glint of wonder’ of a kingfisher to the ‘very, very big’ Titanosaurus.

The Star Whale

Beyond the orange fuzz of street lamps,
Beyond the noisy splash of neon and
The never-ending snake of tail lights,
There is still dark.

Here, the star whale swims,
In the slow gulf stream of galaxies,
Swallowing the glowing plankton of the stars.

Look up!
Perhaps you’ll hear it singing
Songs of comets, supernovae and eternity.

The collection includes blank verses and strong rhyming patterns, tongue twisters and songs. Many of the poems have a serious ecological message while others are about pure enjoyment.

The Star Whale by Nicola Davies spread 2

The book is beautifully illustrated by artist Petr Horáček. In an unusual twist to the normal process of an illustrator producing the pictures to match the writer’s words, in this case, Nicola Davis was inspired by Petr Horáček’s existing sketches and wrote her poems around them. As she notes in the introduction, this ‘took away all the pressure of having to shape a narrative, or write something that might be interesting to illustrate.’

The paintings are bold and colourful, full of joy and life. The animals are so vividly drawn that they appear to be coming off the page towards the reader, or perhaps drawing you into the book and their beautiful world. It is easy to see how the author was inspired to create her poems around them, as well as how the paintings could be used to stimulate creative writing exercises in the classroom.

The Old Apple Tree

I loved the apple tree
and it loved me back

I hugged it when I needed comfort
and its bark was warm

I climbed it when I needed sanctuary
and its green leaves hid me

I touched it when I was feeling sad
and its blossom cheered me

I can’t climb the apple tree these days
But I can sit beneath it
and it is still my friend

The Star Whale displays both the writer and illustrator’s real love of the natural world and of the amazing creatures that share our planet. An air of playful discovery enthuses many of the poems, giving the animals an identifiable personality that will appeal to young readers.

The Star Whale by Nicola Davies spread 3

Nicola Davis refers to the book’s ‘chocolate box aspect’ in that it contains a wide variety of styles, tones and poetic formats. It is a treat that will be returned to and re-read on many an occasion, with the reader able to find something new to discover and delight in with each read.

The Star Whale is a delightful poetry collection that will appeal to fans of Michael Morpurgo and budding David Attenboroughs.

Many thanks to Otter-Barry Books for the review copy.

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If you like The Star Whale by Nicola Davies you might also like: our reviews of My Dad is a Tree by Jon Agee, Super Small: Miniature Marvels of the Natural World by Tiffany Stone, An Anthology of Aesop’s Animal Fables by Helen Ward and Poems the wind blew in by Karmelo C. Iribarren.

Browse our list of books for year 2

About Melanie Dillon

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Melanie has a Master’s degree in Information and Library Management; a Post Graduate Certificate in Children’s Literature focusing on the Reading Agency’s Reading Well scheme & LGBT YA fiction, and extensive experience working in school and public libraries. Linkedin | Reviews by Melanie Dillon