Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Watery Realms Around The World

With every nonfiction book read about all or a portion of our planet Earth, readers are reminded of the unique balance sustained between resilience and fragility.  The resources our world provides for life are not limitless but rely on our stewardship.  Each title, regardless of the intentions of its creators, is a call to action.

On March 29, 2016 First Second, celebrating a ten-year publishing anniversary, released the first two volumes in a new series, Science Comics.  One of the books, Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean written and illustrated by Maris Wicks, brings an authentic perspective to this vast and complex habitat.  Maris Wicks' combination of information supplied by a resident yellow-prawn goby narrator and colorful graphics will have readers eager to explore further.  An introduction by Randi Rotjan, Ph. D., Associate Research Scientist, New England Aquarium, heightens our anticipation as the initial page is seen.

In fact the first two pages are nearly wordless, six square panels on each.  We move from the swirling Milky Way galaxy closer to earth, to a coral reef and finally zeroing in on a portion of coral.  In the bottom right-hand corner on page two a bespectacled fish (the yellow-prawn goby) waves a fin saying hello.

As a chatty, cheery and well-informed guide he takes us with respect and pride through five chapters, What Is Coral?, How And Where Coral Reefs Are Formed, The Coral Reef Ecosystem Explored!, How Are Coral Reefs Connected To The Rest Of The Planet?and Little Reefs, Big Planet Challenges, Changes and Taking Charge! After a comparison on what compromises plant and animal classification we learn coral is indeed not a plant but an animal.  We are educated as to further elements necessary to pinpoint the type of animal coral is.  Interestingly enough coral relies heavily on zooxanthellae, a type of algae living in a symbiotic partnership.  Plus those "z" algae give coral their colorful hues.

Going back 3.8 billion years we are shown how over time, a lot of time, reefs are formed.  Their growth is painfully slow.  There are three kinds of reefs located in two large areas; Greater Caribbean and Indo-Pacific. Did you know that despite the small area coral reefs cover on our planet, they harbor

25% of all the animals found in the ocean?!

An explanation of the seven categories of the classification system of all living things heralds the discussion of life specific to coral reefs beginning with coral types through mammals.  For each our teacher may name the species and common name, or a phylum and common name, or a class and common name.  If that seems too confusing rest assured you will be fascinated with every page turn as little extra facts and anecdotes are added.

You will be astounded by the importance of coral reefs with respect to water and air; two life-sustaining essentials.  Did you know that for every ten breaths you take

 seven of them are thanks to the ocean?

The effects of climate change (not weather) are clearly explained with discussions of coral bleaching and ocean acidification. Easy, every day solutions are offered before our narrator launches into other threats; pollution and habitat loss.  Advice is given on what we can all do.  Finally you will be amazed at the discoveries made relative to further benefits of coral reefs in combating disease and technological developments as we mimic their inhabitants.

After an extended goodbye our friendly fish returns to lead us to further factual items.  Maris Wicks has included a glossary, detailed drawings and a cross-section of a single coral polyp, a bibliography and additional resources.  She supplies us with print and non-print selections.

The narrative by Maris Wicks is highly engaging with the guide looking directly at the reader as if in conversation.  The text is placed in speech bubbles or in separate areas above, below or within the images.  Sometimes other animals address us.  It's if everyone is excited to have us visiting their home.  They want us to know as much as possible to increase our awareness and admiration.  There is humor within the main text and asides at the bottom of panels.  Here is an example.

Millepora alcicomis
Branching Fire Coral
This is not actually a coral; it is a hydroid!
Hydroids are more closely 
related to jellies, and live in
large groups called colonies. 
But even more important---

Thanks for clearing that up---
now come closer so I can

The bright, eye-catching color palette seen on the front book case is used throughout the title.  Maris Wicks uses a variety of panel size combinations enriching the text.  Her layout and design makes use of all available space.  Wicks has the ability to depict the right amount of detail without overwhelming the intended audience.

As readers turn the pages their eyes will quickly find the animated narrator, read his next knowledgeable words and be continually captivated by his ever-changing expressions.  Wicks keeps the pace steady but provides comedic moments through the body postures and faces of the other coral reef occupants asking us to pause.  Her visual depictions of all aspects of coral reefs are outstanding but the pages dedicated to each animal are particularly striking.

Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean (part of the Science Comics series) written and illustrated by Maris Wicks provides an entertaining and illuminating look at this aspect of the ocean world.  Readers will be duly educated about the importance of preserving these areas as the survival of life on our planet is dependent on them.  Whether read silently all at once or in parts or as a daily read aloud this title comes highly recommended.

To learn more about Maris Wicks and her other work please follow the links attached to her names to access her website and Tumblr pages.  Maris Wicks can be followed on Twitter @mariswicks  You will enjoy reading Maris Wicks Cover Reveal: Coral Reefs at School Library Journal by Elizabeth Bird, the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library.  By following this link to the publisher's website you can enjoy viewing eight interior images.

UPDATE:  On October 24 2017 Maris Wicks was interviewed by author and educator Colby Sharp on his blog, SHARPREAD.

Please take time to enjoy the other selections by those participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.


  1. You and Aly were thinking alike!
    Looking forward to this series, my copies arrive tomorrow :)

    1. We were thinking alike, Michele. I hope you enjoyed your copy. I have been thinking of you and your family often.