Kid's Stuff -- Books About Seas & Oceans
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"Whales Passing"
Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Lambert Davis
(Blue Sky Press, 2003)

A disappointing book about orcas, or killer whales. I was drawn in by the art, which I recognized from Mr. Davis's Swimming With Dolphins, a lovely book that is sort of this book's corollary, but with dolphins. In this one, a boy and his father stand on a seaside bluff and watch a whale pod pass by, noting their beauty and grace. The trouble, though, is with the text, which I found overly lofty and poetic, with the narrative buried under flowery rhetorical devices. A simpler, more prosaic style would have been more readable and, methinks, better suited to a younger audience. As is, I found this story to be practically unreadable. (C-)

"A House For Hermit Crab"
Written by Eric Carle
Illustrated by Eric Carle
(Simon & Schuster, 1987)

Over the course of a year (educational value: each month is ticked off, from one January to to the next) a hermit crab finds a new shell and decorates it with other sea critters and objects found on the bottom of the sea. Just when he gets everything right, he finds he has to leave: he's outgrown his home! There's a happy ending, though, because he finds another, smaller crab that's willing to take over the shell and who promises to take care of all the stuff -- an anemone, a starfish, etc. And, of course, the first crab is able to find another safe home and make it look nice, too. A goofy, cheerful story that imparts messages about creative thinking, generosity and about having to let go and accept the passage of time. Good one! (A)

"Hooray For Fish!"
Written by Lucy Cousins
Illustrated by Lucy Cousins
(Candlewick, 2005)

A big, fun book with bold, colorful artwork, typical of the clean, direct style that guides Cousins' wildly successful "Maisy" series. A cute little fish, named "Little Fish," gives us a tour of the undersea world, with a bunch of fancifully named fish ("ele-fish," "eye fish," "sky fish," etc.) This has a very Dr. Seuss-y feel to it, and is visually arresting, rhymes well and fun to read aloud. Recommended! (A)

"Swimming With Dolphins"
Written by Lambert Davis
Illustrated by Lambert Davis
(Blue Sky Press, 2004)

A little girl and her mother go to the beach and meet a small pod of dolphins, and swim with them for hours... The story is told from the girl's point of view, with bright, colorful, easy to understand artwork. It's an evocative, joyful celebration of nature and interspecies cooperation; while it's doubtful that many of the kids who will read this book will ever get the chance to play with dolphins this way, chances are they will really love the book. It gets a nice reception in our house. Recommended! (A)

"My Friend Whale"
Written by Simon James
Illustrated by Simon James
(Candlewick, 1990)

The narrator, a young boy, tells of his friend, a blue whale that takes him on midnight swims... He also tells us a little about how, despite their size, whales are gentle creatures that eat tiny "fishy things," and about how they dive into the ocean and can hold their breath for over an hour. The book has an odd, unresolved tone, though: after we meet the whale, one day it just stops coming to visit the boy, who is left alone to look out his window and wonder if the whale is okay. Even taking this as a metaphor for the passing of childhood or losing one's friends, the book has an odd, off-balance feel. It has a magical tone but ends abruptly... Still, fans of whales and other cetaceans may get a kick out of it -- the magical part is very sweet. (C+)

"Sally And The Limpet"
Written by Simon James
Illustrated by Simon James
(Candlewick, 1991)
A kooky, waterlogged tale tale about a little girl named Sally who finds a cute little limpet while playing in a tidepool... Sally doesn't take the hint, though, when the limpet won't let loose of its rocky perch, and after she pulls it loose, she winds up with a mollusk stuck to her finger... The little critter stays put day and night until Sally wises up and takes it back to the ocean... It's kind of an odd story, but has that nutty Simon James appeal to it... Scientifically accurate, too, as far as I can tell. (B)

Written by Leo Lionni
Illustrated by Leo Lionni
(Random House, 1963)

This sea tale starts on a Bambi-ish note that may be disturbing to the youngest readers (a school of little fish gets gobbled up by a bigger fish, leaving only one survivor, Swimmy, to wander about alone), but its message of social justice and unity is welcome (Swimmy finds another school of little fish, and teaches them to swim in formation, thus scaring off potential predators). Lovely artwork, as with all of Lionni's books, though the first half of the book is kind of a downer. Finding Nemo, eat your heart out. (B)

"One Morning In Maine"
Written by Robert McCloskey
Illustrated by Robert McCloskey
(Viking, 1952)

A long and involved story -- probably best for "older" kids, five or older (?) -- about a girl named Sal who lives with her parents and little sister out in a seaside cabin in rural Maine. On a day when she and her father are going into town to run errands, Sal loses the first of her baby teeth, and chatters happily about losing teeth, making wishes and becoming "a big girl." The literal-minded text is matched by McCloskey's detail-rich artwork, which evokes both the spendor of the natural world and the nuts-and-bolts complexities of the modern, industrial world. There's a lot to look at while all the words go by, especially when they go into town and visit the local mechanic, and then head over to the general store. The rustic, Eisenhower-era world that this book is set in is long gone, but Sal's childlike innocence and sense of adventure still rings true. (B+)

"Way Down Deep In The Deep Blue Sea"
Written by Jan Peck
Illustrated by Valeria Petrone
(Simon & Schuster, 2004)

A young boy's bathtime is filled with fantastical encounters with octopi, turtles, starfish and whales -- even a bit of buried treasure can be found inside the world of imagination. The rhyming scheme which is a little clunky here is used to better effect in the follow-up book, Way Up High In A Tall Green Tree, which features a female heroine. (B)

"Turtle Bay"
Written by Saviour Pirotta
Illustrated by Nilesh Mistry
(Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1997)

A nice nature-loving story about a young boy who hangs out with an old man who teaches him respect for the sea and the animals that live in it. The other kids think old Jiro-San is a kook, but Taro and his sister help him pick trash up off the beach, in preparation for his "friends" making their return. It turns out Jiro-San's friends are a flock of sea turtles who come to the beach to lay their eggs, and the children not only get to see the magical egg-laying and hatching rituals, they help make them possible. (The book leaves unexplained how the eggs survive the depredations of the other beachgoers, who keep leaving trash on the beach, and presumably are tromping over the eggs nests the whole time...) A nice environmentalist narrative that evokes the wonder of nature and of this mystical ritual of reptilian rebirth. Probably best for slightly older kids, but smaller readers might like it as well. (B)

"Into The A, B Sea"
Written by Deborah Lee Rose
Illustrated by Steve Jenkins
(Scholastic Books, 2000)

A marine-oriented alphabet book with beautiful paper collage artwork... It's really the art that makes this book noteworthy (the text is okay, but nothing extraordinary...) The colors are big and bold, the composition is quite strong and incorporates a lot of movement and grace... There are also a few obscuro, weirdo deep-sea denizens, like the umbrellamouth and the viperfish, that give this ABC-er a little extra zing. If you're looking for new, original material to introduce all those letters with, then this book is certainly a fine option. Recommended. (B+)

"A House By The Sea"
Written by Joanne Ryder
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
(William Morrow & Co., 1994)

A rhyming text about the fantastical things that would happen if the little kid narrating the tale could live in a house by the sea. There'd be octopi and seals to play with, and all kinds of fun to be had. The text is okay, and I always like Melissa Sweet's artwork, but this one never really gelled for me. Results may vary where you live. (C+)

"McElligot's Pool"
Written by Dr. Seuss
Illustrated by Dr. Seuss
(Random House, 1947)

A delightful celebration of possibilities, imagination and optimism... One of the best of the lesser-known Seuss books! When a young boy is mocked by a farmer for planting his fishing pole in a dinky little puddle in the middle of a field, the boy replies with a long, spirited defense of his passtime... The words "may" and "might" repeat dozens of times, as he imagines an underground waterway linking McElligot's Pool to the oceans, and the myriad weird-o-rama fish that might bite at his bait, if he only waits long enough. Good things might happen, and what's the harm in waiting to see if they do? Lots of cool, kooky, imaginary Seuss-ian beasts, too, set inside a fun, uplifting poem. (A-)

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