Picture book biographies are not among my favorite kid's books. Often times they're about as much fun to read as the encyclopedia, or they are over simplified to the point of reducing the people depicted to silly caricatures. But when you come across one that's done right, filled with inspiring text, and most importantly, captivating illustrations, you can sign me up for as many repeated readings as you like.
Sylvia Earle, now in her seventies, is a biologist and oceanographer. She spent her youth on a farm in New Jersey investigating ponds and creeks, before moving to Florida where she fell madly in love with the ocean. Earle's accomplishments are impressive: descending 3,000 feet in a spherical bubble she helped to design, living for weeks in a deep-sea laboratory, and walking the ocean floor of Hawaii (deeper than anyone has ever walked). But these achievements take a back seat to her more intimate experiences in the underwater world, such as, getting to know the individual personalities of fish, or conveying how the bioluminescent creatures of the deep-sea create the impression of "diving into a galaxy."
The larger and more serious subtext of Earle's story is environmental conservation, which Nivola saves for the "Author's Notes" at the end. As Earle believes, "if we don't learn about this ocean world we will never really care about it or take care of it."
We loved Life in the Ocean at our house. Being inlanders, it was a great way to introduce the mystery and awesomeness of the ocean to our freshwater kids. And don't even get me started on Nivola's quiet, detailed watercolor and gouache paintings. Each one can make you forget to turn the page.
(Images: Ben Partridge)