Richie’s Picks: LIFE IN THE OCEAN: THE STORY OF OCEANOGRAPHER SYLVIA EARLE
Richie’s Picks: LIFE IN THE OCEAN: THE STORY OF OCEANOGRAPHER SYLVIA EARLE by Claire A. Nivola, Frances Foster/Farrar Straus Giroux, March 2012, 32p., ISBN: 978-0-374-38068-7
“We would sing and dance around
Because we know we can’t be found
I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’s garden in the shade”
Richard Starkey (1969)
“Pictures of whales, says Sylvia, make them look ‘big and fat and ponderous and lumpy…Whales are like swallows…like otters…They move in any direction. They swim upside down. They’re vertical. They’re every which way…They are sleek and elegant and gorgeous, among the most exquisite creatures on the planet. They move like ballerinas…Rollicking, frolicking creatures, doing all this wonderful dancing in the sea.’”
The fourth through twenty-ninth pages of Claire A. Nivola’s picture book LIFE IN THE OCEAN contain a hypnotically engaging, fact-filled profile of Sylvia Earle, a woman scientist, now grandmother-aged, who was born a Jersey girl and grew up to be a groundbreaking (sea-breaking?) oceanographer who has had undersea adventures galore. These twenty-six pages are an invitation to readers to see and embrace all the wonders to be found under the sea:
“So much of diving is an all-too-brief glimpse below the surface. Sylvia had always wanted to know what it was like to live in the sea, to be a part of the daily life of the underwater world. She finally had a chance to do just that when she spent two weeks fifty feet below at the deep-sea station Tektite II. For as many as twelve hours a day, she swam among the fish and coral reefs, watching the changeover from day to night and back again. Using a small flashlight at night, she noticed that the day fish ‘tucked in’ to the same nooks and crevices the night fish had just vacated, each fish often returning time and again to its same resting place – just as we do!”
But pages thirty and thirty-one of LIFE IN THE OCEAN – the Author’s Note -- is not quite the lark that the previous pages are. If you flip to the Selected Biography at the very end of the book, you will see that Sylvia Earle’s latest book is THE WORLD IS BLUE: HOW OUR FATE AND THE OCEAN’S ARE ONE. And this is what, in echoing Ms. Earle’s findings, author Claire A. Nivola explains in her author’s note: The oceans are our planet’s lungs, we have been screwing up the ocean something royally, and we are on the verge of killing our planet thanks to the endless streams of garbage, chemicals, radiation, and carbon (from fossil fuel consumption) to which we have been subjecting our oceans.
Yes, this is another one of those great picture book bios for our Women’s History Month. And, yes, as with Nivola’s PLANTING THE TREES OF KENYA, this is beautifully illustrated with her stunning watercolor art.
But, more importantly, as with PLANTING THE TREES OF KENYA (which won the Green Earth Book Award in the picture book category), this is a first-rate environmental book, a call to action directed to the young people who are going to have to live with all the crap that my generation and the past few are responsible for dumping in our oceans.
When it comes to LIFE IN THE OCEAN, I’d worry less about the Women’s History Month displays and, instead, be displaying this with books like Loree Griffin Burns’s TRACKING TRASH: FLOTSAM, JETSAM, AND THE SCIENCE OF OCEAN MOTION, and with whatever books are, no doubt, in the works about the massive Fukushima nuclear disaster (which has Fuk'd up our oceans in ways we haven’t yet begun to imagine).
“We’ve been putting just millions of tons of things into the sea that are really altering the nature of nature…”
--Sylvia Earle on The Colbert Report, 10/13/2009
I was just watching Sylvia Earle on video. Given that she has spent decades in a front-row undersea seat, I’m impressed by her stating (also on the Colbert video) that with the oceans being so polluted, people should not eat any fish unless it is farmed fish from a place the consumer knows and trusts. This is how bad it is.
An essential book about a life-or-death issue.
Richie Partington, MLIS
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