I grew up fascinated by orcas. They're smart, playful, and social. They’re a top predator in the oceans, but not dangerous to humans. And they feature in some really great books for kids and teens! Here are a few, both fiction and nonfiction, to let young readers dive into the ocean world of an orca and learn how they can help protect these amazing creatures.
Superpod: Saving the Endangered Orcas of the Pacific Northwest, by Nora Nickum
The endangered Southern Resident orcas, with names like Kiki, Tahlequah, and Blackberry, whistle and click their way around the waters of the Pacific Northwest in three small family groups. Readers will meet these playful and beloved orcas as well as scientists, educators, and advocates working to save them from extinction, using tactics that vary from medicine and laws to drones and scat-sniffing dogs. My debut book is inspired by years of watching orcas from shore as well as my job at the Seattle Aquarium where I collaborate with scientists and speak up for policies to protect ocean health and help these endangered whales recover. It’s filled with stories, action ideas, and hope.
A Whale of the Wild, by Rosanne Parry, illustrated by Lindsay Moore
A young orca named Vega must lead her brother on a tumultuous journey to be reunited with their pod. This fantastic fictional novel about Southern Resident orcas is a great companion read to Superpod, giving kids a chance to feel what it could be like to live as a young orca, play with siblings, hunt a salmon, prepare for a leadership role in the pod, face threats from humans, and meet other orca populations that are notably different. Lindsay Moore’s beautiful black-and-white illustrations give the story even more vibrancy and feeling.
Orca Rescue! by Donna Sandstrom, illustrated by Sig Burwash
Two decades ago, a young orca was found near Seattle, far from her family in Canada. The author tells an exciting firsthand story about how people identified this orca as a calf named Springer and decided to try to take her home. They spent months in careful planning and preparations and finally successfully reunited her with her family. The book is an engaging play-by-play interspersed with beautiful watercolor illustrations and factual spreads about orcas.
For a picture book about Springer aimed at ages 7-10, also check out The Spirit of Springer, by Amanda Abler, with lovely color illustrations by Levi Hastings.
Orca Chief, by Robert Budd, illustrated by Roy Henry Vickers
Thousands of years ago, hunters head out to harvest seaweed and salmon, but when they get there, they are too tired to make sure their anchor is dropped where it won’t hurt marine life. Orca Chief calls for the men and their boat to be brought to his house in the sea, and teaches them about sustainable harvest and compassion for other life on the planet. The bio for painter and printmaker Roy Henry Vickers notes that he is a respected leader in First Nations communities, and there’s a note at the beginning where he shares how the story of Orca Chief was passed down to him.
Granny’s Clan, by Sally Hodson, illustrated by Ann Jones
Grandmother orcas are the leaders of the Southern Resident pods. They share their wisdom and the fish they catch, and they lead the way to where salmon can be found at different times of year. This concise, lyrical book, great for younger readers, is based on science and specific orcas in the Southern Resident population: Granny, Samish, Suttles, Mako, and Ruffles. Granny teaches her orca grandchildren how to breathe through their blowholes, hunt for salmon, communicate by making sounds underwater, and escape from danger. I love that there’s also a scene with a superpod–a big orca party when all the pods come together.
Baby Orca, by Mary Batten, illustrated by Chris Rallis
This nonfiction picture book has both photos and illustrations. Young readers can imagine what it’s like to be a baby orca–coming up to the surface for air, nursing, clicking and whistling to communicate, learning to hunt salmon, and always being well cared-for by her mother. Southern Resident orcas stay with their mothers for life!
Interested in exploring the world of the orcas in other ways? June is Orca Month every year, with a lot of in-person events in the Pacific Northwest as well as virtual ones that can be joined from anywhere! Visit the Orca Month events page to learn more.
Nora Nickum is the author of Superpod: Saving the Endangered Orcas of the Pacific Northwest (Chicago Review Press, 2023). Her stories and articles have appeared in children's magazines like Cricket, Ladybug, and Muse. Nora also leads ocean conservation policy work for the Seattle Aquarium. She lives on an island in Washington state. Learn more at noranickum.com.