The ocean, an elephant, and a historical figure: Three things that inspired The Boy Who Met a Whale, a guest post by Nizrana Farook
I started writing The Boy Who Met a Whale two years ago. A decade before that I’d left my life in Colombo, Sri Lanka, moving countries and continents to the other side of the world. One of the things that I missed the most became my first inspiration for this book.
The sea was a greyish blue, deepening gradually to a brilliant turquoise with the rising sun shining on the waves. Coconut trees fringed the beach, their wiry trunks twisted like swaying cobras. – The Boy Who Met a Whale
I lived by the ocean all my life in Sri Lanka. I always took it for granted but when I left I lost that companionable sound – the roar and crash of the waves. The newfound silence was strange and almost deafening in its absence.
And so it was that when I started the book I went to the sea. Not just by it but actually into it too. This was my chance to show the beautiful scenes and sea creatures of the world I left behind, so I had a great deal of fun with this coastal, island setting.
The sea under them had gone grey and mottled. As he watched, the darkness spread out around them, getting bigger and bigger, as if something was rising from the bottom of the ocean. – The Boy Who Met a Whale
The second thing that inspired my book was an elephant. Not a real elephant but a fictional one, and of my own making too. Ananda the elephant appeared in my debut, The Girl Who Stole an Elephant. When I began writing my second book I was aware of the need to have an animal that was comparable to an elephant in some way, as many readers might come to it after reading my first. I thought of the beauty and majesty of Ananda and was suddenly struck by the fact that a whale would be a worthy successor.
It occurred to me that the elephant was the largest land animal, and so I settled on a blue whale because it was the largest sea animal. By some serendipitous coincidence, I found out that there is only one country on earth where the world’s largest land animal and sea animal exists in the wild. That country, as you might have guessed, is Sri Lanka. I felt that this was a sign and that Maalu the blue whale was the perfect animal for a follow-on to my debut.
Researching whales and watching hours of whale videos confirmed this. They were the most beautiful and fascinating of creatures, the gentle beasts of the ocean. I’d planned an ocean adventure and how fabulous would it be to have a whale as a fellow adventurer for some of the journey! She even had a hand in thwarting the villains.
“What’s your name?” asked the boy, after taking a long swig of coconut water. “I’m Zheng.”
“I’m Razi. I live in the town down the beach from here. How come you speak our language?” He glanced nervously at the sea. Would the men be back? And was it all right to leave the boy in this state?
Zheng wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Oh, I speak loads of languages. I don’t mean to boast, but I can’t think of a language I don’t know even a little of. Been all over the world, you see.” Razi frowned. So much for not boasting. – The Boy Who Met a Whale
The third thing that inspired my book was one of my favourite historical figures, Admiral Zheng He.
The Boy Who Met a Whale opens with a ship sinking, and a boy seemingly the only survivor of the shipwreck. In the second chapter, the protagonist Razi is watching baby turtles going into the sea when a boat comes in. Inside the boat is a boy who’s full of the most fanciful stories about an adventure-packed seafaring life. Every story has the touch of the unbelievable about it, so we’re never quite sure how much of it is true. I felt like this boy deserved a grand, maritime name, and who better than one of the greatest explorers ever?
Zheng He was a Chinese mariner, explorer, diplomat, and fleet admiral from the fourteenth century. His many voyages included forays to Sri Lanka as well. About a hundred years ago a stone tablet was found in a town called Galle in Sri Lanka, and it was found to have been inscribed in three languages in Nanjing and brought to Sri Lanka by Zheng He himself. Interestingly, Galle is also the place my book is set in. I pounced on that tidbit at once, choosing the name Zheng for the mysterious boy and making him a polyglot as a nod to the trilingual stele brought by his famous namesake.
Those three things formed the keystones of my inspiration. The ocean, a blue whale, and an exciting stranger kicked off this maritime adventure; I hope you have fun diving into it.
Meet the author
Nizrana Farook was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The beautiful landscapes of her home country find their way into the stories she writes. She has a master’s degree in writing for young people and lives in Hertfordshire, England with her husband and two daughters.
About The Boy Who Met a Whale
A Sri Lankan fisherboy is swept up in a thrilling seafaring adventure, complete with a kidnapping, missing treasure, and a huge blue whale! From the author of The Girl Who Stole an Elephant.
Razi, a local fisherboy, is watching turtle eggs hatch when he sees a boat bobbing into view. With a chill, he notices a small, still hand hanging over the side.
Inside is Zheng, who’s escaped a shipwreck and is full of tales of sea monsters and missing treasure. But the villains who are after Zheng are soon after Razi and his sister, Shifa, too. And so begins an exhilarating escapade in the shadow of the biggest sea monster of them all.
Author Nizrana Farook has crafted another briskly paced, action-packed quest that swells with empathetic heroes, missing treasure, and a great beast lurking beneath. Set against a vibrant, authentic landscape inspired by Sri Lanka, this delightful caper will thrill young fans of adventure and fantasy.
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Publication date: 02/01/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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