Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978



Fall 2006 Fiction
Ages: 10 & Up
Author: Herman Melville
Illustrator: Patrick Benson
Told By: Jan Needle
Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN: 0-7636-3018-7
Hardcover Price: $21.99
Twenty-five years ago, I finished the 600 or so pages of Melville's loose and baggy novel, a kind of scrapbook of a great story mixed with all kinds of technical information about whales and whaling as well as abundant digressions; as Philip Roth said in The Great American Novel, Melville's book is full of hundreds of pages of “blubber.” The history of this book's reception is also curious: published in 1851, it met with unfavorable reviews and drifted into obscurity; near the turn of the last century, it was briefly revived as a children's book because of its mixture of story and marine science; now Moby-Dick is generally regarded as a classic American masterpiece.

In Jan Needle's 200-page edition, Melville's words are here and we once again encounter Ishmael (our storyteller), Queequeg (his native companion), Captain Ahab (and his monomaniacal obsession to kill the white whale that took his leg), and the entire crew of the doomed Pequod. Missing is very little that will be missed. And where Needle has made excisions, he moves between sections of Melville's text in a companionable way with intelligent and italicized commentary that leads us along and provides background. This editing is brilliant.

Even the design of this book is impressive, right down to its historical typeface and maps of the world's whaling grounds. Patrick Benson's illustrations are, for the most part, just right. His black-and-white's are simulated woodcuts that seem historical and approach the genius of Barry Moser. His color pictures, however, are uneven: sometimes fine but sometimes sketchy and amateurish in the manner of old Grosset-and-Dunlop children's books.

Normally, I wouldn't recommend an abridgement of any kind, but I wish to heartily praise this new Candlewick edition of Moby-Dick for doing the unusual: improving upon the original.

Jerry Griswold   ©2006 Parents' Choice

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