Whale Fall
Exploring an Ocean-Floor Ecosystem
Gorgeous painterly art and gentle, lyrical prose combine to bring a little-known, deep-sea ecosystem to life for young readers. Meet the fascinating community of creatures, from amphipods and zombie worms to squat lobsters and sea pigs, that depends on a decaying whale for shelter and sustenance for up to 50 years.
Honors and Awards
AAAS/Subaru Prize for Excellence in Science Books
ALA Notable Children's Book
Colby Sharp’s Favorite Books of 2023
Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices List
Cybils Award Nominee
Imagination Soup’s 35 Best Nonfiction Books for Kids
Mr. Schu's Favorite Books of 2023
National Science Teaching Association Outstanding Science Trade Book
Natural History Recommended Gifts for Budding Scientists
Nerdy Book Club Award for Nonfiction Picture Books
New York Public Library Best Books for Kids
Nonfiction Detectives Best STEM Books for Kids
NPR’s Living on Earth radio show feature
Texas Topaz Nonfiction Reading List
“[We] are colossal fans of Melissa Stewart. As a nonfiction writer, her talent to bring facts to life without overwhelming readers is a true gift. She makes our job as librarians easier because we can trust the book we hand a curious reader. We know they will be able to absorb the information while also just enjoying the narrative.”
The Nonfiction Detectives
“A beautifully illustrated nonfiction look at a whale fall told in vivid and lyrical language.”
 “This lovely picture book [features] effective descriptive language supported by perfectly aligned mixed media illustrations in watery shades of blues and greens that span facing spreads… The rich back matter includes additional information about whale falls, a bibliography, sources for further exploration, and basic information about all 22 animals mentioned in the text … makes a great read-aloud.”
“When a whale dies, its body sinks to the ocean floor, but that’s not the end of its useful life. For the next 50 years, it will continue to provide nourishment to a series of deep-sea creatures. Stewart takes her readers 5,000 feet down into the East Pacific Ocean to watch the procession of scavengers who will feast on the remains of a 70,000-pound gray whale—and sometimes each other … It’s a thriving new seafloor ecosystem. The exemplary backmatter tells us that scientists have identified over 500 species that are in some way connected to a whale fall. The author has chosen examples with names—‘snubnose eelpouts,’ ‘sea pigs,’ ‘blob sculpin’—that delight. The smoothly written text is set directly on evocative blue-toned underwater scenes that make good use of light and texture. … An intriguing and effective look at an unfamiliar world, well suited for reading aloud.”
—Kirkus Reviews
Behind the Book
“In 2019, I stumbled upon an article about zombie worms, aka bone-eating snot flower worms, while writing a book called Ick! Delightfully, Disgusting Animals Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses. I included some information about them in the Dwellings section of that book (dozens of tiny males live inside each female), but I knew I wanted to write more about these unusual marine worms one day. So I tacked the article to my Idea Board as a reminder.
“Sometimes notes and articles stay on my Idea Board for a long time, but when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, all my school visits were cancelled and I had plenty of time for research. As I began reading more about zombie worms, my mind was blown. I was completely captivated by the incredible collection of critters that live in, on, and around a whale fall. I knew I had to write a book about them.
“I often spend years trying to find just the right structure for a book, but in this case, I knew immediately that a chronological sequence structure would be the perfect choice. This allowed me to write the book in just a few months.
“My critique group loved the manuscript, and encouraged me to send it out right away. Often, it can take many months to hear back from editors, but this time, I heard back the very next day. She loved the book and wanted to acquire it right away. I was thrilled.
“And when she sent me samples of Rob Dunlavey’s stunning artwork, I was even more excited. I knew he was the perfect artist to illustrate the book.”
Whale Fall
by Melissa Stewart
illus by Rob Dunlavey
Random House Studio, 2023
for ages 6 to 10
ISBN 978-0-593-38060-4
Purchase this book at your local independent bookseller or Amazon.com.
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