McNulty explores the probable evolution of modern whales from large, land-dwelling animals in the Mesonychid group that lived during the time of dinosaurs. She carefully delineates likely changes in these animals-they found it easier to hunt in the sea than on land and so gradually developed the capacity to swim and lost the capacity to walk-that occurred over many millions of years. Readers will easily follow McNulty's almost poetic explanation of how modern whales came to be. After introducing the whales we know today, McNulty explores some of their characteristics, such as the differences between toothed and baleen whales. McNulty concludes with speculation about a whale's mind and feelings-what is it like to have no place to call home? Does the whale still have residual feelings from being a land animal?-that helps to make the saga more personal. Ted Rand's illustrations, executed in acrylic, watercolor, and chalk, are appropriately watery. Swirling bands of blue and green, looking almost as if they were done in a finger-paint technique, evoke a mysterious underwater environment. The overall package is elegant and attractive. Although lacking notes and pronunciation hints for scientific names such as Ambulocetus and Rodhocetus, this book is sure to be a hit with dinosaur fans and whale lovers alike. --
Horn Book Magazine
Your child will likely never forget that whales are animals after all, and not fish.
The team behind the intimate view of A Snake in the House takes a more objective, long-range look at whales in this clear account of the mammals' complex evolution. Beginning 50 million years ago, when the antecedent "whales" were furry, four-legged land animals wading shallow waters to forage for fish, McNulty touches on evolutionary milestones leading up to the exclusively water creatures we know as whales today. The feet of land-roaming mesonychids become broader, paddlelike; ambulocetus, the "Walking Whale," comes ashore only to rest and give birth; rodhocetus, the "Hardly Walking Whale," takes on a tapered silhouette with a fin-like tail. Despite a few anomalies (e.g., How did the nostrils become a blowhole on top of the head?), McNulty effectively demonstrates that modern whales carry recognizable remnants of their ancestors ("Inside whales' flippers are arm, wrist, and finger bones"). Although unambiguous and forthright, the text is dense and perhaps best approached with a clear understanding of evolutionary principles (a time line, for instance, would have been helpful). McNulty's straightforward prose concludes in searching questions: "We know [whales] think and have feelings.... Does the whale still have some of the feelings of a land animal...? Does the whale still love the sun?" Rand's arresting and expansive watercolors offer additional, subtle physical changes not mentioned in the text, and his dramatic portraits of orca and sperm whales, especially, will please any fan of these giant mammals. Ages 7-10. (Feb.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Gr 3-5--The ancestors of modern whales were definitely land dwellers, with four sturdy legs, a tail, furry coats, and a set of powerful jaws. Through a long process of evolution, their forelegs became flippers, their tails grew muscular flukes, and their hind legs disappeared from view to become vestigial skeletal remnants. Their nostrils moved to the tops of their heads, and their jaws grew different teeth or transformed them into sheets of filtering baleen. But their blood is still warm, they still nurse their young, and those vestigial hind limbs testify to their four-legged forebears. McNulty recounts this aeons-long conversion in a simply worded, informative text, including data on modern cetaceans and their lifestyles as well, and an added page of further details on six whale species. All of this is flawed by a misstatement on the duration of whale dives: some do make shallow, short-term dives, but sperm whales regularly make deep dives lasting an hour or more. Rand's exuberant paintings rendered in acrylics, watercolors, and chalks are a perfect foil for the readable text, presenting accurate images for readers uncertain of the physical appearance of such unwhalelike beginnings as mesonychids and ambulocetus, and who are appreciative of the awe a pair of gigantic flukes can generate.--Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Solid science writing and appealing acrylic, watercolor, and chalk illustrations combine to convincingly tell the incredible story of how a furry, four-legged land creature, the mesonychid, evolved into the modern whale. McNulty (A Snake in the House, 1994, etc.) concisely details the millions of years of evolutionary changes, from a "walking whale" (ambulocetus) to the "hardly walking whale" (rodhocetus), and finally, to the more recent whale, the dorudon. For each change the author describes, based on fossil evidence, the body adaptations, probable diet, and life cycle of the creature. The accompanying paintings, covering two thirds of each spread, capture the splendor of ancient animals known only from fossils and from the features of the contemporary whale. Although the text appears entirely in uppercase, which fussily detracts from the clear, accessible writing, this is an exceptional title. (Picture book/nonfiction. 7-12) .