oh, the billowy waves and the briny deeps…a list of five books about our oceans

down down down cover imageDown, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Squid who whoosh like firecrackers out of the water, then glide through the air.  Long-long-long oarfish, sporting orange fringe atop their heads like something straight out of Dr. Seuss.  The loosejaw stoplight fish, whose brilliant red face-patches beam light into the inky waters.

The oceans are teeming with creatures, most of whom are unfamiliar to you and me, all specially equipped with intriguing add-ons and built-ins that enable them to survive under extreme conditions.  The pressure of the water in the lowest trench of the Pacific is over 1000 times what we experience on the surface,down down down illustration steve jenkins enough to crush most things you could think of.  Yet, lo and behold, even here life is found.  Sunlight cannot penetrate the water below about 600 feet, yet thousands of sea dwellers must hunt and avoid being hunted, and most provide their own illumination to do so.

Steve Jenkins always provides clever, thought-provoking angles of learning about the amazing world around us.  In this book, we descend, page by page, through the zones of the ocean, finding out at each stop about some of the animals that dwell there, as well as some facts about the habitat of the ocean itself.  A fascinating bar running down each page indicates the teensy sliver of ocean lit by sunlight, the fathoms and fathoms of dark waters below, and just where on our journey to the bottom of the sea we are at present.

Jenkins’ fantastic paper collage illustrations fill the pages with exotic marine animals to marvel over, with just a little text, pitched for an early-to-mid elementary child.  No talking down here.  Several pages with more detailed information on each species appearing in the book will appeal to older-elementary through adult readers.  There’s also a clever Size Guide here, as some of these ocean-dwellers are much smaller than your hand, while others are much, much larger than a grown man.  Take a fascinating foray into marine life with this book.

dolphin baby cover imageDolphin Baby! by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Brita Granström

The miraculous birth of a dolphin baby is the curtain-opener in this delightful book which follows that sweet guy through his first six 

dolphin baby illustration brita granstrom 001

months of life.

In beautiful, descriptive language, we hear about the “creased and crinkled” skin he wears when he emerges, how he takes his first breath, nurses, rests, babbles, and learns to swim.  We find out about early play time and Mom’s special ways to communicate with her own baby.  We cheer when our charge catches his first fish!

Written clearly, accessible to preschoolers and up, Davies’ account will mesmerize and enchant as it conveys fascinating information about these sociable ocean creatures.  Anticipate that your children will become utterly enamored with dolphins after reading this one!  Brita Granström has provided the perfect accompaniment with her acrylic illustrations in tropical blues and seagrass greens, the smiling faces of these gentle animals never upstaged by the beauty of their habitat — and that’s quite beautiful!

A brief, concluding note tells a little about the varieties of dolphins in our world and Davies’ delight in watching their antics, as well as striking just one note of warning about the threats they face today.  Read this, go see some dolphins in a zoo or in the wild, and fall in love!

life in the ocean cover imageLife in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, written and illustrated by Claire A. Nivola

Sylvia Earle loved outdoor investigation from the time she was a young girl, and when she moved to Florida at age 12, her mother says she took one look at the Gulf of Mexico and “lost her heart to the water.”

She has spent a lifetime pursuing her passion — “to witness firsthand the marvels of the sea, and increasingly to serve as a spokeswoman for the vital importance of the ocean to the health of our planet and to our very survival.”

To that end, there’s been scuba diving and snorkeling, research expeditions on ships and in deep-sea laboratories, hours spent in her own strange bubble-life in the ocean illustration claire nivolacontraption and a highly specialized Japanese submarine.  She has swum with the giants of the sea , humpback whales, hearing their surreal music, and delved into the fairyland world of coral reefs; seen bioluminescent creatures twinkling like stars in the darkness, and come nose to nose with curious fish in sundappled waters.

All of these thousands of hours under water and decades of learning about the oceans have led Earle to pioneer ways of exploring the ocean, and to speak about the tremendous stresses we have placed on this habitat and its dwellers in the past century.

When I see Claire Nivola’s name on a book, I grab it off the shelf!  She does not disappoint!  This engaging account of Earle is plum full of all the right details to draw us in, make us thirsty to know more.  Pleasing to early-elementary right on up.  Her artistry is so beautiful — delicate, detailed, colorful watercolors that speak of the burgeoning wonders of nature, the captivating variety of all these curiousities, the vastness of the ocean realm.

A lengthy Author’s Note provides more details of Earle’s accomplishments as well as the really sad levels of damage in our oceans that must be addressed.  As Earle says, “You can’t care if you don’t know.”  Take a look at this gorgeous, hidden world with your children and learn to care.

tracking trash cover imageTracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion, by Loree Griffin Burns

In 1990, Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer listened to his mother, and his career took quite an interesting turn!

One day Ebbesmeyer’s mom told him about a news item she’d read — hundreds of Nike sneakers were mysteriously washing up on beaches near Seattle. Where had they come from?  Mrs. Ebbesmeyer wanted to know, and figured her son, an expert in ocean movement, ought to be able to find out.

The study of movements of the ocean — currents and tides, gulf streams john ebbesmeyerand El Niño effects — has been Curt Ebbesmeyer’s passion for decades.  When he started tracking the source of this outpouring of shoes, though,  he realized he’d found a brilliant new method for studying currents — he would track flotsam and jetsam, the trash from ships at sea that floats about on the ocean and finds its way to beaches in predictable patterns.

Loree Griffin Burns’ interesting account of Ebbesmeyer’s activities and methods allows us to learn quite a bit about scientific research, oceans, beachcombing, applications for this knowledge to fishermen, and sadly, the appalling volume of trash in the ocean.  In a riveting chapter called “The Garbage Patch,” I learned about an island of three million tons of trash which floats about in the Pacific Ocean, and of the deaths of thousands of sea birds after they ingest plastic crud we throw out, and of the  discarded fishing gear which drowns sea animals by the tens of thousands.  These latter chapters of the book are incredibly sad and motivating at the same time.  I think you should read them.

This lengthy book is suited for upper-elementary students and older.  Many color photos, maps, and diagrams nicely enhance the material, and more books and web sites are listed for further discovery.

sea clocks cover imageSea Clocks: The Story of Longitude, by Louise Borden, illustrated by Erik Blegvad

What do
minutes and seconds,
and royal prizes
have to do with the ocean?

The vital search for a method of navigating the seas, of knowing just where your ship was on that vast, unmarked expanse, was one of the most important scientific questions in the 1700s.  Far too many lives and rich cargoes were lost routinely due to faulty navigation, leading to a grand prize offered by the English Parliament for whoever could solve this vexing problem.

Enter John Harrison, a carpenter-turned-clockmaker who by means of his restless, problem-solving mind, 

sea clocks illustration erik blegvad 001

incredible perseverance, and superb craftsmanship out-thought and out-lasted his more elite scientific rivals to discover an accurate means of reckoning longitude.

Louise Borden’s account of Harrison and his long, painstaking experimentation is fascinating, and though chock full of details, her prose is not a bit heavy.  Children as young as 6 or 7 will be carried along effortlessly due to her diligence, precision and shrift with words.  Truly beautiful work.

Erik Blegvad, a favorite illustrator of mine, adds his gorgeous, delicate, detailed watercolors and ink drawings that capture the era perfectly and add an immense amount of understanding.  Seeing Harrison’s intricate clocks, his tools, the types of sailing vessels in use, clothing and architecture, countryside and cityscapes will capture the imagination of all who curl up with this really beautiful book.

A short Author’s Note fills us in on the fate of Harrison’s famous clocks over the years.  You might be surprised to read about their journeys!

Here are Amazon links for all these seaside stories:
Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea
Dolphin Baby! (Junior Library Guild Selection (Candlewick Press))
Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle
Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion (Scientists in the Field Series)
Sea Clocks: The Story of Longitude