Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Living In The Deep Dark

There are spots on our planet, even today, where humans have never ventured.  In those places inhabitants reside whose secrets have yet to be revealed.  We have knowledge of the existence of some but it is limited.

According to NOAA's National Ocean Service ocean covers more than seventy percent of our planet's surface.  This is ninety-seven percent of the water on Earth!  A curious creature lurks in these deep and dark waters.  Giant Squid (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, September 27, 2016) written by Candace Fleming with illustrations by Eric Rohmann is a lyrical, haunting look at this mysterious monster.

in the depths
of the sunless sea,
in the cold,
cold dark,
and fearsome

These beings are huge; picture in your mind's eye the size of a bus and the weight of a ton.  They are rarely seen.  We wonder about how they hunt, eat and produce their young.  Scientists learn, little by little, by gathering clues left and discovered from all around the world.

Giant squid have two long tentacles.  Not long like a yard stick but long like ten yard sticks.  The description of these two tentacles will leave you shivering.  How would you like to be grabbed by a limb covered with suction cups?  These suckers contain saw-like teeth.

 If that visual does not have you quaking eight other arms help to shove you toward a hungry opening.  This is not like a fish's lips but like a parrot's beak, a very big parrot's beak.  This terrifying beak leads to a mouth and tongue designed to make the meal into mush.

Being in the same proximity as something with eyes as big as soccer balls might tend to make something freeze in fear.  These enormous eyes on a giant squid have a purpose; a purpose to notice the dimmest light in the dark. Believe it or not this is a warning for this being to flee from one of its few predators, a sperm whale.

We have little understanding of why a giant squid changes color or where they lay their eggs.  Small giant squids come from those hatched eggs.  They, like the parent, do have protection from those who wish to consume them by squirting out ink.  This ink creates a cover allowing them to escape.  One minute they are there and then in the next they have vanished.

Four pages of poetic lines lure us down into the ocean darkness, curious to learn, prior to the title page.  Candace Fleming weaves facts into her words writhing arms, lidless eyes and weighing a ton. She leaves us clues much like those left by the giant squid on the surface of the ocean or washed on sandy beaches.  This is a marvelous technique to create interest.

She continues with vivid descriptions of hunting and eating with the tentacles, arms, beak, mouth and tongue.  Her explanation for the function of the round, unblinking eye is unexpected but utterly fascinating.  She gives us as many answers as she can but leaves us with questions.  It's her writing, the manner in which she places her words, which excites and invites us to explore further as the best of nonfiction does for readers.  Here is another passage.

The beak.
Bone-hard and parrot-like,
it sits in the center of those eight,
slithering arms,
protruding from the creature's mouth,
rotating from side to side,
ripping apart prey.

The images, rendered with oil on paper by Eric Rohmann beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case, are realistic but otherworldly at the same time. The arms and tentacles in motion stretch over the spine to the left, the back of the jacket and case.  A dark, steely blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.

The choice to have five pages of text and illustrations prior to the title page is sheer brilliance. With each page turn the tentacles and arms reach a little bit higher from the bottom of the right side until the "wow" factor of the two-page picture on the title page.  The design of having the one tentacle reaching higher toward the circle of light and swimming fish is fabulous and frightening.

For most of the book we see only pertinent pieces of the giant squid. We are very close to the creature observing intricate details of the physical characteristics.  As the text conveys to us how the ink allows the giant squid to escape, the visuals go from complete murkiness, to the hint of a presence and then to a double gatefold which will leave readers gasping.  A final two-page illustration is a black and white drawing of the giant squid body with seven labeled parts; fins, mantle, funnel, eyes, beak, arms and tentacles.

One of my favorite illustrations is of the eye.  For most of the right side of the painting we see the eye and the portion of the body in which it is placed.  Arms stretch to the left, some allowing us to see the suckers, creating a background for the text.  It's amazing and a little creepy.

Your readers are going to gravitate toward this book like bees to hives.  Giant Squid written by Candace Fleming with illustrations by Eric Rohmann is a masterful piece of nonfiction. As soon as I finished it, I read it again. As intriguing as it is, it's one more reason I have great respect for the creatures which inhabit our planet, especially those in our oceans.  Candace Fleming includes absolutely mind-blowing facts in a lengthy note at the back along with a bibliography, acknowledgments, searching for giant squid online and other books about giant squid.

To learn more about the work of Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann and their bios, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  This link to the publisher's website allows you to see four interior images.  PictureBookBuilders celebrates this title with an interview of Candace Fleming.  Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann talk about this book on The Actually Podcast.  Here is an earlier but still interesting interview of Candace Fleming at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  There are earlier video interviews of both Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann at Reading Rockets.  Here is a previous interview of Eric Rohmann at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Dr. Edith Widder of ORCA was the fact-checker for this title.  I found her TED video very interesting.  Please watch before sharing with students. (There is a little language.)

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other selected titles for those participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. Just read this a couple of days ago, Margie--it's fantastic! Squid are such amazing creatures, and I love how the whole story is a bit of a mystery, like the creature itself.

    1. It is fantastic Maria! Candace Fleming's narrative and Eric Rohmann's paintings are wonderful and a little bit creepy. I really like the author's note at the end.