I Lived Inside a Whale

by Xin Li (Author)

I Lived Inside a Whale
Reading Level: K − 1st Grade

For fans of Oliver Jeffers, this stunningly illustrated, whimsical picture book is about finding your own voice and learning how to connect with others through storytelling.

A quiet child in a boisterous family, Emma Wen dreams of a world that is peaceful and silent. When she reads about the blue whale - with a heart so big her father could stand in it - she has an idea. She fashions a boat out of household objects and sails from her bedroom into the mouth of a whale, where she settles in happily. Emma has finally found her peace and quiet. That is until another child, Owen Tang, arrives inside the whale and is loud, noisy and "everything she is running away from".

Emma and Owen's unlikely friendship blossoms inside the microcosm of the whale in a beautifully told story of friendship and finding your own voice in a world that is "filled with too much of everything, everywhere."

With lush, irresistible illustrations and its balance of sensitivity and adventure, Xin Li's author/illustrator debut is an ode to storytelling and imagination and displays her keen understanding of the emotional world of children.

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Kirkus Reviews

A sweet, contemplative tale of friendship and discovering one’s voice.


An empathetic and affirming journey for imaginative readers working to find their voices in sometimes overwhelming spaces.

Publishers Weekly

It's not merely a desire for alone time that occasions a child's retreat from everyday life's cacophony in this thought- ful solo debut by Li (You Are Home). In digitally finished pencil, watercolor, and gouache, the young narrator acknowledges experiencing what cues as sensory overload--a world "filled with too much of everything, everywhere, all the time"--created by a raucous birthday party and a street with noisy traffic. The narrator, who sports high pigtails, fantasizes about life within a blue whale, a creature with a heart so large "that my dad could stand inside it." Soon, the child sails in a small boat through a doorway with a drawing of a whale's mouth taped around it: there, "I was embraced by silence." Then a too-friendly chum crashes this quiet refuge. Though conflict is expected, visually rich fantasy sequences show the newcomer respecting the narrator's boundaries, transfixed first by story retellings, then by the protagonist's own tales. In the quiet, the narrator discovers, one can hear one's own voice--and others listen when they speak their truth--following an inspiring, unexpected interior journey. Protagonists read as East Asian. Ages 4-8. Agent: Angharad Kowal Stannus, Kowal Stannus. (Feb.)

Copyright 2023 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.
Xin Li

Xin Li is an artist and writer. She was born and raised in China and currently lives in Norway with her husband and their daughter. After spending half of her life living in countries outside of her homeland, Xin chose to paint and write, as stories help her to make sense of a world that otherwise is often lost in translation. Xin is passionate about collecting books, watching clouds, and going for long train rides to cities she has never visited before. I Lived Inside a Whale is her U.S. author/illustrator debut. You can visit her online at Lixin.no.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Little Brown and Company
Publication date
February 20, 2024
BISAC categories
JUV039060 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Friendship
JUV039050 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Emotions & Feelings
JUV047000 - Juvenile Fiction | Books & Libraries
JUV051000 - Juvenile Fiction | Imagination & Play
JUV002170 - Juvenile Fiction | Animals | Marine Life
Library of Congress categories
Picture books

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