Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Beneath The Waters Of Our Oceans

Why do we choose to read certain books over other titles?  Hopefully it is a matter of choice usually based upon factors which fluctuate from book to book.  Each Wednesday I am excited to participate in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher on her blog, Kid Lit Frenzy.  Why am I excited?  This weekly invitation to participate has given me the opportunity to grow in learning about people, places, things, our natural world and global issues in the past, present and future.  My respect for each of these has increased in ways I never imagined.

This week's title was selected for three reasons.  National Women's History Month is celebrated annually during the month of March.  The subject of this biography is a woman.  She was born in my home state of Michigan in the same year as my mother was.  Their cities of birth are only seventy-six miles apart.  My curiosity was piqued.  Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, January 5, 2016) written by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Raul Colon  introduces you to a remarkable woman who met the challenges of her time with determination and considerable skill.

Maps.  I love them!  
I love the flow of colors and lines.  I love the way I can trace a path with my finger across mountains or valleys until my finger has traveled thousands of miles---from here to there---on just one page.

Marie Tharp's enthusiasm for maps was linked to her childhood.  She and her family followed the career paths of her father as he made maps throughout the United States.  As a soil surveyor he plotted soil locations and their best uses for the agricultural populace.

Marie's fascination with maps continued to grow during college.  She was particularly interested in the large expanses of water between the continents.  No one really knew much about the ocean floors.  With several degrees to her credit she tried to get jobs she enjoyed but women were not readily accepted in the scientific field at this time.  When working at Columbia University in the study of oceanography, she was not allowed to travel on the research ships because she was a woman.

A colleague, Bruce Heezen, had the same questions as Marie about the oceans' bottoms.  They wanted to map it. Using soundings made by scientists on seaworthy vessels, Marie started to draw the physical features of the land beneath the waters beginning with the Atlantic Ocean.  A huge mountain range, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, extending from north to south took shape.  So did one of the most daring theories.

Marie had an idea based upon her maps.  Bruce Heezen did not agree with her concept.  Did he finally acknowledge the veracity of her hypothesis and its impact on the scientific community?  The answer lies in this book.

Relying on authoritative sources Robert Burleigh intrigues us with the factual events which shaped this woman's life; her father's occupation, the words of a college professor, the resistance of a male-dominated field in allowing a woman to work with them, a like-minded and supportive colleague, the use of soundings in map making, the significance of specific depth numbers and the value of a drawing based upon solid evidence.  Burleigh elects to convey Marie Tharp's life through her first person voice.  This aligns us to her struggles, victories and the strength of her character and commitment.  Here is another sample passage from this title.

I began by drawing the coastlines---first of the Americas, then of Africa.  Between these coasts lay my target:  the wide Atlantic Ocean.  Next I slowly collected all the soundings available and placed their numbers carefully where they belonged on my map.

On the front of the matching dust jacket and book case we observe Marie Tharp standing at the rail of a ship at sea.  We can't see her face to understand what she might be feeling at this point.  This asks us to look inside the book.  We won't know until we read further that initially Marie was not allowed to sail with her research colleagues.  To the left on the back, Marie is shown (in a smaller image) at her work table sketching out the oceans' bottoms.  This is placed within a picture of a ship taking soundings of the varied levels beneath the water's surface.

The opening and closing endpapers are done in two shades of blue-green featuring sunlight beaming into the ocean as fish swim along the bottom.   The illustration on the title page is a physical map of the Atlantic Ocean framed by the surrounding continents.  A finger on Marie's hand is pointing to the center, specifically at the word Under in the title.

The illustrations rendered in watercolors, Prismacolor pencils, and lithograph pencils on Arches paper by Raul Colon reflect his signature style with their luminescent glow.  (See a previous blog post about his book, Draw!, which includes three videos about his work and process.)  His color palette in this title leans toward earth tones.  He shifts his perspective bringing us close to Marie (and others) and then taking us farther back to get a bigger picture of an important event.

At times he will use double-page images or decide to use only a single page picture.  Each serves to enhance the text.  One stunning visual covers two pages edge to edge with no text.  It makes you realize the vastness of the ocean and the monumental task accomplished by Marie Tharp.

One of my favorite pictures is of a pastoral scene set early in Marie's life.  On the left is a patchwork of plowed fields with mountains in the distance, pale blue sky, clouds and birds flying above them.  To the right is a row of trees, a wooden rail fence in front of them.  On the left foreground Marie is standing between a surveyor's tripod and her father holding a map.  Her head is bent reading a book.  To the right a truck from that time period is parked.

Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor written by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Raul Colon pays tribute to a woman scientist who dedicated her entire life to following her passion for maps and map making.  Her contributions are invaluable.  At the back Burleigh includes more factual information about Marie including recognition for her work.  It was less than a decade before her death in 2006.  There is a list of Some Words And Phrases To Know.  In his bibliography he includes eight resources about Marie and oceanography.  One in particular is written for adults and seems to be very extensive.  Five websites are also named.  Burleigh asks questions of readers and welcomes them to explore further on the final page, Things To Wonder About And Do.

To learn more about Robert Burleigh and Raul Colon please follow the links attached to their names to access informative websites.  More information about Raul Colon and his work can be found at this link.  Raul Colon is interviewed at Illustration Friday.  Robert Burleigh explains the pronunciation of his name at TeachingBooks.net.  The publisher shares eight interior images at their website.

Last week at Kid Lit Frenzy a pertinent discussion about what makes a book nonfiction generated quite a bit of commentary.  With this in mind I did some research about this title.  You might want to check at Encyclopedia.com, Your Dictionary-Biography, The New York Times obituary for Marie Tharp and an article about her work with the Library of Congress.  I hope we continue to keep this dialogue open and relevant.

1 comment:

  1. It's a wonderful choice of a book to read and review. The destiny of a woman is a very deep realm investigated by Robert Burleigh in a very detailed way. The Lord has created us, women, vulnerable, however, we are not always like that. We are strong to face any misfortunes.