Celebrating whales at Portland Public Library

Posted by on Jun 4, 2013 in Book: Here Come the Humpbacks, Portland Public Library, Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing | 3 comments

Once upon a hot Saturday a very happy crowd dove into the ocean at the Portland Public Library in honor of Here Come the Humpbacks! 

According to Native American wisdom, a whale is like a swimming library, carrying the history of Mother Earth and knowing the memories of ancient knowledge. It was both striking and fitting to see Istar fill the Rines Auditorium, thanks to Children’s Museum & Theater of Maine.

(All photos © Greta Rybus)


This 15 foot inflatable humpback was crafted for the museum by George York and is 15 years old, modeled after a real whale (named Istar) who just recently died at the age of 45. Her tail flukes’ pattern identifies her.

The life-size scale invoked wonder.


Educator Louisa Donelson gave four 15-minute tours inside Istar. How cool a job is that?


Only the brave climbed into the belly of the whale.


Ed Briant knows a whale of a time when he sees one. Istar deflates some when people enter, and then puffs back up to full size.


Inside, Louisa shows Istar’s features, discusses eating habits and growth, and takes all questions. For instance: how big are the eyeballs? About the size of a grapefruit. The throat opening is the size of a basketball.

About 15 people can fit inside at one time.


Kids and parents played a migration game that parallels the journey of the mother humpback and her calf in April Pulley Sayre’s story.


At the beginning of their journey, every whale baby must drink LOTS of milk.  This calf is mighty thirsty!


Time to find the blow hole.


Baby humpbacks love to blow bubbles!


I had such fun illustrating these activity cards. I’ve never met a compass rose I didn’t love.


Each station had a card stack with directions for the next move.


Looks like Kirsten Cappy, event producer extraordinaire, got some barnacle hitchhikers, too!


Baby whales get to show off for whale watchers on the Odyssey, who so generously gave away 4 free trips!



Thar she blows!


My adopted whale, Salt, kept me company as I shared her family tree, provided by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation. She’s the most famous humpback in the Gulf of Maine, with 12 recorded calves, and two of her daughters have 9 babies between them! If you want to help whales, WDC is an amazing organization.


Thanks also to Michele Ganter, who brought books from the nearby Longfellow Books.


What delight to meet kids and sign books for them.


I asked them to try my pastels, too.


Wait, who let Totoro in here?


So much to see, do, and read!


And eat!


Louisa kept Istar busy.


I loved seeing fellow illustrators, like sunny Nicole Fazio.


Louisa heard a whale of a tale.


Too soon, the fun turned to farewells.


Many thanks to intrepid Curious City intern, Delaney Honda, who helped in giant ways.


I confess: I polished off the last cookie.


Hats off to photographer Greta Rybus for capturing the day. And to my family, who inspire me endlessly.


Congratulations to Jenn Carter, Joe Rosshirt, Jelena Radosavljevic, and Anna Boll whose names were drawn for a free whale watch trip on the Odyssey.

Thanks to all who made this celebration of Here Come the Humpbacks! a fantastic splash!



  1. This is SO AWESOME, Jamie! Congratulations on such a fun event and your book looks amazing!

  2. Jamie, this all seems wonderfully creative, joyous and educational. I can’t wait to buy a few signed copies for my young American and Korean friends.

  3. Fabulous event! The joy and energy of the faces of those kids speaks for itself. I must have a giant inflatable whale at all my book signings!

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