High And Dry
High And Dry
The whales kept swimming in circles just a short distance from shore. Dylan wished they’d go farther away from the sharp rocks. Dorsal fins kept coming up out of the water and going back under the waves. It looked like the whole pod was here. Wait—where was Oreo? He was little, so he couldn’t stay underwater as long as the other orcas could, but he was also harder to spot among the others and the waves. And then Dylan saw him. Oreo was on the rocks at the bottom of the outcrop.”
Dylan is spending a year living on a remote island with his parents. His life there is very different from his life on the mainland – at times isolating, as he is being homeschooled while there, but with ample opportunity to explore and appreciate the natural world. When Dylan’s parents go off the island for a few days for work, Dylan’s grandfather comes to stay with him. The visit promises to be interesting as his grandfather surprises him with some new equipment: a beautiful kite in the shape of an eagle, a state-of-the-art drone, and a metal detector to use on the beach at low tide. Things don’t go as planned, however, when Dylan hears distressed sounds coming from the outcrop and, upon investigation, discovers a young beached orca whale. As they are the only two people on the island, with help hours away and no electricity to call for backup, Dylan’s grandfather isn’t convinced they can be much help, but Dylan is committed to at least try. Together, they formulate a plan, and the brave boy spends 10 hours beside the stranded mammal, protecting him from the elements until high tide can (hopefully) release him.
As the action unravels over the course of a couple days, High and Dry does a wonderful job of introducing readers to a unique setting, creating age-appropriate tension and educating while entertaining. The stakes are immediately set as readers join Dylan and his family on the island during a bout of unfortunate weather. Though readers’ concerns about the parents’ safety are quickly assuaged by the news of their safe arrival on the mainland, the next crisis is not long off. Walters’ skillful pacing makes for an enjoyable reading experience as readers follow along with Dylan’s emotional and, eventually, empowered story.
Gendron’s illustrations are a welcome addition to the text, at times used as a means of clarification (what does a metal detector look like?) and, at other times, a means of storytelling in their own right. The greyscale drawings are approachable, emotive, and include an ideal amount of detail. Readers feel more connected to Dylan, his grandfather, and the plight of Oreo, the young Orca, through the images.
Ultimately, it is Dylan who is the hero of High and Dry, spending an entire day protecting the beached Orca from the sun and threat of drying out. His grandfather is there for support and information, but the commitment and perseverance are the boy’s alone. This is important for the age group of the intended audience who are just starting to undertake reading as an individual pursuit. The protagonist’s initiative, tenacity, and eventual success are translatable beyond the wild adventure context of the story, itself. The story highlights grandparents (and other adults) as support systems, sounding boards, and sources of advice, but sets the stage for children as heroes of their own tales. Children can experience vicarious empowerment and hopefully translate that fearlessness and determination into their own lives.
Amber Allen is a librarian in Guelph, Ontario, with a passion for children’s literature and writing.