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Friday, March 01, 2013

Kids Books: Ocean Non-fiction

Kid: I am thinking of an animal that lives in the ocean.
Me: What does its name start with?
Kid: Starts with an O, but can be M also.
Me: ??? Octopus?
Kid: Nope, it is a fish I am thinking of.
Me: How many words in its name?
Kid: Two
Me: What does the first word end with?
Kid: N, or A
Me: ??? Give me a clue
Kid:  It lives in the Sunlight Zone, not the Twilight or Midnight zone.
Me: Give me another clue
Kid: It is the heaviest bony fish.
Me: Starts with O or M? Really?
Kid: Yup. It has two different names.
Me: I give up.
Kid: It is Ocean Sunfish. Its other name is Mola Mola!

Indeed! We've been studying fish and other sea creatures for the last few weeks.

I spent a good few decades blissfully unaware of Mola Mola and Portuguese Man-of-war and Hatchett Fish and Viper Fish and Siphonophore and Loosejaw Stoplight Fish and Black Swallower and Vampire Squid and Snipe Eel and Oarfish and Hairy Angler and Tripod Fish and Giant Tube Worm and such...

Since we did come across many interesting books, I wanted to list them here for future reference. Some are part of a series and we are working our way through the series.

Without further ado, here are a few of the non-fiction picture books about ocean creatures listed in no particular order.

Down Down Down
by Steve Jenkins

I have tremendous respect/awe/admiration for Steve Jenkins. Many of his books are a huge hit with the kids and an inspiration for me.

And sure enough, Steve Jenkins' Down Down Down became an instant favorite with us thanks to the amazing art work and simple yet rich text.

Moving from the top Sunlight zone to the Twilight zone to the Dark zone to the Abyssal plain and Hydrothermal vents to the deepest Marianas Trench, the book showcases creatures that have adapted to living in these zones and co-existing with others.

Jenkins' trademark cut-paper collage work and choice of creatures to showcase are brilliant as always.

[image source:]
[view gallery at]

Partners in the Sea (Undersea Encounters)
by Mary Jo Rhodes & David hall
photos by David Hall

Undersea Encounters is a series of books by Mary Jo Rhodes. Partners in the Sea is particularly fascinating as it explains symbiosis - mutualism and commensal relationships and other partnerships among the ocean creatures.

Not just the classic sea anemone and clownfish, but, many such curious relationships are showcased in child-friendly text and gorgeous photographs. A small shrimp cleaning the inside of a grouper's mouth, Coleman's shrimp riding on the back of sea urchins, not to mention sponges and corals and the animals they host and hide...

Incidentally, along similar lines is Steve Jenkins' book How To Clean A Hippopotamus: A Look At Unusual Partnerships, which covers a wide variety of animals, not just in the ocean dwellers.

[image source: Mary Jo Rhodes website]

Sea Jellies: From Corals to Jelly Fish
by Sharon Sharth

Animals In Order series of books by Children's Press (also Rookie Read-About series) has a collection of non-fiction books that go one step further in helping children understand the classification of living things.

The Order of Living Things section explains the Kingdom, Phylum and Class for the creatures presented in the book. Sea Horses, Pipefishes and Their Kin by Sara Swan Miller is another in this series that we liked.

Each double-page in this book has a photo of a particular creature on the right with the Family, Common Example, Genus and Species information on the left, along with a page of details about that particular specimen. And it is further grouped - for example, Sea Jellies are grouped as Open Ocean Sea Jellies, Rocky Shore Sea Jellies, Coral Reef Sea Jellies, and Swamp Sea Jellies.

The book also talks about what affects their existence and the conservation efforts needed to preserve the bio diversity.

[image source:]

Sea Horse
by Christine Butterworth
illustrations by John Lawrence

For a long time, no one was sure what kind of animal the sea horse was. Its scientific name is Hippocampus, which means "horselike sea monster".

The inside of front and back covers used to be Ana's favorite in this book when she was about five - primarily because it shows the differnt kinds of sea horses from Dwarf to Short-snouted to Barbour's to Pacific to Pygmy to Zebra to Long-snouted, to name a few.

The mixed media artwork illustrations are lovely in this book which tells the story of sea horses in quite an engaging and entertaining manner, focusing on Barbour's sea horse.

[image source:]

How to Hide an Octopus & Other Sea Creatures
by Ruth Heller

Along the same vein as How To Hide A Parakeet & Other Birds and other such books in this series, I love the presentation - the illustrations and text.

Octopus changes its color to camouflage and hide from predators, much like a chameleon.

As quick as a wink, it turns to pink
or green or blue or any hue,
This creature is an octopus and very often hides
by changing to the color over which it glides.

With lilting text and starkly beautiful illustration, the book comes alive with various sea creatures in their natural habitat, from cuttlefish to sargassum fish, sea dragon to decorator crabs (a favorite from Partners in the Sea book), we learn how these creatures can hide in plain sight and thus escape predators.

[image source: better world books]

The Usborne Big Book of Big Sea Creatures
and Some Little Ones too
by Minna Lacey
illustrated by Fabiano Fiorin

With four giant foldouts, there is plenty to see in this book. Illustrations of the sea creatures is accompanied by a short few sentences about them. The relative sizes of the creatures are well presented.

Besides the usual whales and other massive mammals, the soft-bodied octopuses and jellyfish and squid, and the ever-fascinating sharks, we learn about other creatures too, like the Humphead Wrasse, Goliath grouper, Ornate Wobbegong, Conger Eel, Beluga sturgeon and Atlantic Sailfish, to name a few.

Right along with Steve Jenkins' Down Down Down, this book was quite an obsession for the kid.

[image source:]

Dolphins, sharks, penguins, and more!
by Johnna Rizzo
introduced by Sylvia A. Earle

Large square book with an adorable photograph on the cover is packed with tidbits about dolphins, sharks, penguins and more, as the title says.

Introduction by Sylvia A. Earle was a pleasant surprise when we encountered this book just after reading a biogrpahy of Ms. Earle (see biographies below).

"Layers of Life" section lists 50 sea creatures arranged in the various zones in the accompanying picture.

Interesting creatures we learnt about from this book include Moonfish, Barrel-eye fish, Bell jelly, Comb jellyfish, Black seadevil, Vampire octopus, and Fangtooth.

The attractive feature for me was the "Ocean Extremes" pages which have to be held up vertically to behold the full glory. From the Bizarre Creatures of the Deep to Wild Wonders like the Mid-Atlantic Range of mountains, Hydrothermal vents, and Marianas Trench, and cool advances like the JIM suit and ROVs and Ice Buckets and Super Subs... a lot to learn about not just the creatures but how to get to where they are and study them.

"20 Ways You Can Protect The Ocean" section is practical and motivating for the young reader.

[image source: google books]

Turtle Tide: The Ways of Sea Turtles
by Stephen R. Swinburne
illustrated by Bruce Hiscock

The best part of this book was how it impressed upon the young mind (and the adult reader) the laws of nature and the survival struggle that many animals face.

A female Leatherback sea turtle makes the exhausting journey, hauling herself to the beach she was born in, to lay her eggs, digging and burying a 100 of them.

A few eggs are stolen and eaten by raccoons. Now there are only 64 out of the 100.

The eggs hatch and hatchlings scramble out of the sand and head towards the ocean.

On the way, a few hatchlings are eaten by Ghost Crabs and now there are only 22 out of the 100.

As the remaining hatchlings scramble faster and faster to the ocean guided by an internal compass, a few more are eaten by a waiting blue heron. And now, there are only 10 of the 100.

The ten manage to plunge into the relative safety of water only to be eaten by a cruising sand shark. What was 100 is now only 2.

A pair of laughing gulls out hunting for fish for their own hatchlings grab the two remaining, but one of them drops a hatchling who disappears in a wash of breaking waves.

And out of the 100, only ONE hopefully survives!

A gripping drama unfolds in this narration as we root for the hatchlings to head for safety and simply survive. This made the kids appreciate what a privileged position humans have in terms of survival - we have plenty of food, relative safety, and very little threat from natural predators...

The illustrations are simply amazing!

[image source: Bruce Hiscock website]

DK Ocean: Inside Guides
An extraordinary look from the inside out
written by Miranda MacQuitty

Ever wonder what the inside of a sea urchin looks like? Or the inside of a Moon Jellyfish's tentacles? How about a look at the ink sac and the brain and the gills of a squid?

That's what this book tries to do: give an "inside" look at ocean creatures and ocean features with photographs of wonderfully constructed models.

From Ocean Zones to Kelp Forest, Clicks & Whistles for communication to the sophisticated poisoning Mechanism of  some of the unusual creatures, the book is filled with information about the ocean life. Various types of shark teeth, the efficient filter feeding of baleen whales, the powerful lobster claws that can deliver a nasty pinch... the book is best enjoyed in small doses as there is so much to take in.

[image source: personal photo]

W is for Waves
by Marie and Roland Smith
illustrated by John Megahan

Quite wordy and for older readers, this book is one of a series of books by Sleeping Bear Press on various themes, like S is for Shamrock, G is for Galaxy, W is for Wind.

For the younger reader, the short rhyming verses and the pictures were interesting enough. For example, the page on bio-luminescence has this simple verse
L is for Lights,
some creatures have their own.
Great to have if the lights go out
at night when you're all alone.

M is for Mollusks.
This popular group
often end up
in somebody's soup.

[image source: Sleeping Bear Press]

Biographies: William Beebe and Sylvia Earle

Biographies are inspiring and heart-warming. Very few picture book biographies manage to present the essence of the person without distorting the image to fit the narration. One of my favorites is Manfish, The Story of Jacques Cousteau (reviewed for Saffron Tree).

Into The Deep: The Life of Naturalist and Explorer William Beebe
by David Sheldon

Biggest attraction in this book was Beebe's Bathysphere and the mysterious creature he encountered. The little guy simply cannot let go of the fact that no one may ever know what the mysterious creature was that Beebe encountered during his deep sea dive.

[image source:]

Life In The Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia A. Earle
by Claire A. Nivola

The happy discovery in this book for the kid was that Sylvia A. Earle was inspired by William Beebe and his Bathysphere and constructed her own deep sea diving one-person submersible and went deeper than anyone had done until then. Alone!

And then, not satisfied with a visit, she managed to make an extended stay of two weeks in a deep sea station, just studying and observing the life in the ocean deep.

[image source and view more images at Macmillan]

Just for Fun:

Trout, Trout, Trout! (A Fish Chant)
by April Pulley Sayre
illustrated by Trip Park

April Pulley Sayre is one of my favorite authors for non-fiction animal picture books. Some of her books we liked are shared in the Non-fiction Animal Picture Books post. Her commitment to accuracy of facts and her talent with lyrical text makes many of her books popular with the kids, especially for read-aloud sessions.

With caricature-like illustrations and lilting chant the book has been a fun read for the soon-to-be-5 year old.

Threespine Stickleback, Freshwater Drum.
Lake Chub, Creek Chub, Chum, Chum, Chum.

The book is filled with freshwater fish names some of which are quite silly - makes one wonder how they got their names. The illustrations capture this silliness of the names while not straying far from what the fish really look like.

Paddlefish, Flagfish, they're all real.
Mosquitofish, Sunfish, Eel, Eel, Eel!

[image source: April Pulley Sayre Website]

Usborne 1001 Things to Spot in the Sea
by Katie Daynes
illustrated by Teri Gower

'I Spy' style of books are always popular with the kids. Each page in this book presents a scene and lists the number of a certain type of creature/thing to find. For example, in the Underwater Forest spread, amid the sea kelp are a host of creatures swimming about. We are asked to identify 10 Garibaldi fish, 5 Black rock fish, 8 Kelp bass and so on.

While the 4 and 11/12ths kid was fascinated with the book, I found the illustrations a bit confusing. There were other creatures not listed among the items to find and not much info was given about them.

[image source: usborne catalog]

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