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Rossland native illustrates non-fiction children’s novel ‘Orca Rescue’

“It all felt serendipitous, whales were on my mind.” - Sarah Burwash
Rossland native Sarah Burwash illustrated the recently released Orca Rescue.(Contributed)

Artist Sarah Burwash’s talented illustrations can be found in the new children’s book Orca Rescue.

Burwash grew up in Rossland, and after graduating from UBC Okanagan, moved to Nova Scotia about 10 years ago, where she has developed a strong connection to the sea.

Burwash had previously illustrated Apple Story by Shauna Paynter in 2009-10, and had her own work published in 2013 by Conundrum Press titled The Far Woods. She was approached by the publisher Kids Can Press in 2017 to illustrate Orca Rescue.

“They told me they had been familiar with my work for a while and were waiting for the right project to come up to pair me with,” Burwash told the Rossland News. “At the time I had just begun house-sitting a beautiful home on the ocean for a couple who ran a whale watching tour business, and sadly a whale had washed up on the shore of the beach outside the house.

“It all felt serendipitous, whales were on my mind.”

Orca Rescue is a true story and a captivating account of the only successful orca rescue and reunion in history.

Told in first person by Donna Sandstrom, the author helped rally a community of volunteers to rescue a young orca spotted alone in Puget Sound near Seattle.

The young whale named Springer was lost, underweight, and 500 kilometres away from her home waters.

Sandstrom, an orca enthusiast from Seattle, eagerly joined the volunteer effort that helped identify the orca as a missing female calf. The story follows the group as they come up with a plan to transport Springer home, and her ultimate release near Vancouver Island, where she was reunited with her family.

For Burwash the process was challenging, but the result well worth it.

“It’s been hard to look at the book objectively, after being immersed in it for so long,” she said.

“I think it’s a heartwarming story that allows kids to learn through a narrative that is full of passion, care, community and science.”

Burwash’s evocative watercolour illustrations make the perfect accompaniment to the text, intended for readers Grades 3-6.

But it did not come easy. The artist had to undertake a crash course in cetology for both accuracy and aesthetics.

“It was a very challenging project,” explained Burwash.

“It is a non-fiction story and the whales have to be anatomically correct down to their individual saddle patches on their backs.

“Familiarizing myself with the nuances of individual whales was a learning curve and involved a lot of editing. The project ended up doubling in length in the process and took over two years, rather than the original one-year timeline.”

Springer’s reappearance set off an extraordinary rescue and pod reunion involving citizen and professional scientists, nonprofits, U.S. and Canadian governmental agencies, and First Nations and Native American tribal members.

Sandstrom also helped build the Orphan Orca Fund, a coalition of seven nonprofits, which was key in organizing financial and in-kind support for the complex rescue. The book combines eyewitness experiences with solid research, and a narrative that delivers a clear, month-by-month account of Springer’s rescue.

“The author and myself worked very closely with the publisher through the process,” said Burwash. “They really guided things.

“The day before the book was published (Oct. 5) it was announced that Springer the whale was pregnant with her third calf, so happy to say that Springer the whale is alive, well, and thriving,” she added.

The artist is currently working on a 200-plus page graphic novel that she is writing and illustrating. In addition, to working as an artist and illustrator, appropriately, Burwash is also a deckhand on a lobster vessel in Cape Breton.

The Kirkus Review says “Burwash’s appealing illustrations provide valuable detail.”

Orca Rescue can be purchased at Goldrush Books in Rossland.

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