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Luke Swims With the Whales

by Maryann Whitfield

Effective reading involves our imagination.  Six-year-old Luke shows us this as he reads about whales.

Luke Swims With the Whales

Pulling a book from his little suitcase Luke says, “Look Nana!  My new library book.”

Then he whispers as if we are conspirators planning a grand adventure into the unknown.  “It’s a book about whales.  I love whales.”

“Well, let’s get started,” I whisper back.

We open the book and Luke carefully examines the photographs on each page.  He’s like a detective sniffing out clues.  He’s delighted when he discovers this book has maps on some of the pages.  Luke loves maps as so many children do.

We turn back to the beginning of the book and start reading the text.  Luke listens intently.  He finds out what each whale eats.  He is fascinated by their size and weight, especially the really big ones.  And he studies the maps carefully, making sure he knows which ocean each whale lives in.  It’s as if he’s literally being drawn into the pages of the book by his desire to understand these enormous creatures of the sea. 

As we turn to the last page Luke is excited.  “Look at this sperm whale.  It’s the biggest whale!  The map shows it lives in the Arctic Ocean.  The water is so cold here.  Look!  A giant squid!  The book says that sperm whales eat giant squid.”  Luke flashes a big smile.  His eyes sparkle.

“Just imagine, Nana.  This big squid must be really hard to swallow.  But not if you’re an enormous sperm whale!” 

I begin to understand that Luke’s imagination is carrying him into the ocean.  He’s picturing himself with the whales and is swimming alongside them as they hunt for food.  He’s on a grand adventure with these awe-inspiring creatures. 

When we close the book, Luke is whispering again.  “Tomorrow I’ll make a book.  I’ll draw a picture of each whale.  Then, will you help me put them in order?  Biggest to smallest.” 

It’s amazing where imagination can take a reader.

A Reader’s Imagination


Reading is not merely comprehension or understanding.  The most accomplished readers put themselves into the text.  Think of yourself as a reader.  We don’t just read words.  When we read a story or information, effective reading requires imagination.  That includes nonfiction as well as stories.

Whales was a simple text with photographs and maps.  Through his imagination, Luke was able to sort of be in the water with the whales, swimming alongside when they hunt for food.  (“The water is so cold here. Look!  A giant squid!  The book says that sperm whales eat giant squid.”) THAT is a reader.  He is the reader we want all children to become.

When we read with a child we can:

• say, “Let’s just imagine…”(…we’re swimming with the whales.   …we found fossils like the paleontologist.  …we’re in Africa on safari.) 

• have a conversation about the pictures we see in our mind as we read and we imagine what the book is telling us

• draw a picture of something we saw in our imagination as we read the words and have a conversation about what we drew

Literacy Library Bulletin Link

Tim O’Keefe – What Does Reading Mean to You?

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