When you think of the word brave, other synonymous meanings come to mind like courageous, heroic, bold or fearless. If you were to ask a group of children what brave means to them, I wonder what they would say. Would they be able to think of an individual who has exhibited the condition of being fearless? Most of them would not think of the combined efforts of an engineer and an explorer as being particularly heroic.
Perhaps they have never heard of two bold souls who saw life in the darkest part of the sea before any others. Otis And Will Discover The Deep: The Record-Setting Dive Of The Bathysphere (Little, Brown And Company, June 5, 2018) written by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by Katherine Roy features two men who dared to defy the watery depths. Their determination changed the course of our understanding of the oceans.
Otis Barton discovered the ocean early.
He splashed in the Atlantic on summer vacations, sailed Vineyard Sound.
Will Beebe discovered the ocean later.
First, he hiked northern forests on summer vacations. He tracked woodland animals, studied snakes in his bedroom, and raised an orphaned owl.
Otis wanted to dive deeper than the sand sharks he watched. He tried to use a garden hose to breathe. He tried a washtub over his head to hold air. His final invention (with the help of friends) worked!
Will was older when he first discovered the beauty of sea life on a reef near the Galapagos Islands. This was his beginning of wanting to know what was farther below in the oceans. Will started planning and creating a diving tank. Otis saw the plans and knew Will needed his help but it was months before Will would agree to meet him.
Once Will saw Otis's ideas he believed a like-minded person was standing before him. They both wanted the same thing, to go as deep as possible. The Bathysphere was becoming a reality. There was detail after detail which needed to be considered, being safely lifted off the deck, oxygen levels, seals and the overall design.
The 5,000-pound unit was only four and a half feet in diameter. It was a tight squeeze for two men measuring six feet tall. The hatch weighed 400 pounds! Can you imagine this?!
On the day of the launch they dropped 100 feet, 200 feet, 300 feet and 400 feet. It was getting colder and darker. A momentary fright was resolved. They kept going. On this date, June 6, 1930, they reached 803 feet. These two bold souls made unprecedented scientific history.
By supplying us with specific moments in the early years of both men's lives, Barb Rosenstock gives us an idea of the passion which fueled their desires. She uses repeating phrases to link them together then and again when they finally meet, dive and reach their destination. Her descriptions of the physical Bathysphere start to intensify the suspense of the dive. She builds on this with particular pieces of information. By telling us what happens at each one hundred foot drop, the tension builds. Her repeated use of the word stop and the phrase breathe in and breathe out helps us to experience what Otis and Will might have felt. Here is a passage.
700 feet. Stop.
The dark ocean glowed! Their eyes played tricks
in the mysterious inky gleam. Will tried to read---
print disappeared on the page. Otis examined
color charts---saw only black and white.
When you open the dust jacket of this book it's as if you are
The dark blue hues speckled with dots of light extend over the spine and to the ends of each flap. The light shining from the Bathysphere continues to the lower, right-hand corner of the flap. Sea creatures are evident on the front flap, the front and the back. The style used for the fonts and framing of Otis, Will, Barbara and Katherine replicates the edges of the windows and the hatch on the Bathysphere.
To the left, on the back, outlines of details found on the blueprints for the vessel are lightly etched in white drifting around an interior view of Otis and Will inside the Bathysphere. The book case canvas is darker blue hues with spots of light. The only additional element is on the front. It's the Bathysphere suspended with the cables, looking small in the largeness of the ocean.
On the opening and closing endpapers, each set different, illustrator Katherine Roy showcases animal life found at different depths. They are placed on a background of watercolor washes looking like sand. The twenty animals are labeled.
Exquisitely rendered using pencil, watercolor, gouache, and ink the illustrations draw you back in time into this narrative. Extensive research brings authenticity to every image. Perspective, the shifts in picture sizes and their placement on one or two pages (and a breathtaking four page gatefold) elevate and extend the text to the point where the visual story wraps around us. We are jumping off a dock into the ocean. We are climbing a tree to observe birds. We are crammed inside a vessel diving hundreds of feet below the surface wondering if we will live through this day but also exhilarated by the sights we see.
One of my many favorite pictures is when we are inside the Bathysphere with Otis and Will prior to the drop. Neither of them is looking at us. They are focused to the left and right of the gutter. Otis is ensuring the telephone headset is operative and checking the oxygen levels. Will makes certain he can see at all angles through the window. He wants to record everything he sees. There is intensity and tension in this moment. It is perfectly depicted.
Readers will savor every word and image of Otis And Will Discover The Deep: The Record-Setting Dive Of The Bathysphere written by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by Katherine Roy. It's an adventure filled with mystery, anxiety and excitement and it's true! At the close of the book there are an informative author's note, an illustrator's note, and a note from Constance Carter, Former Head, Science Reference, Library of Congress who was mentored by William Beebe. Sources are listed, too. As a read aloud this book is fantastic. I highly recommend it for your personal and professional collections.
To learn more about Barb Rosenstock and Katherine Roy and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. Barb Rosenstock includes a five page educator's guide. Katherine Roy has a link to her blog. Both Barb and Katherine maintain accounts on Twitter. Please enjoy this video with Barb and Katherine unboxing their book. It's highly informative and fun.
UPDATE: Barbara talks with Katherine at Picture Book Builders, A Deep Conversation with Illustrator and Author Katherine Roy.
Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles chosen by participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge this week.