Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Ocean Occupants

Many of us when speaking of the large bodies of water covering our planet refer to them as oceans or seas interchangeably.  Geographically seas are smaller and considered a part of oceans.  Usually seas are partially enclosed by land.  Even for someone spending most of their life able to walk along the shores of Lake Michigan, to step on the sandy beach of a sea or of an ocean is stunning.  As far as you can see there's water.  If you venture in a vessel for enough time on this water, you suddenly realize the land has vanished.  There is nothing but ocean.

To be out in a boat on the ocean with no terra firma in sight is a lesson in perspective.  Who are we compared to this expanse?  What lies beneath our boat?  In his third title (The Big Book Of Bugs and The Big Book Of Beasts) author illustrator Yuval Zommer presents a multitude of answers in The Big Book Of The Blue (Thames & Hudson, June 5, 2018).

Can you find . . .
. . . exactly the same sardine
15 times in this book?
Watch out for imposters.

In twenty-seven separate sections following this challenge it's a given readers will be actively looking for the sardine among the flow of creatures moving on each page.  They will certainly stop at the first two-page picture dedicated to Who's Inside?  Here they receive an overview of the contents with the corresponding page numbers.

Five Ocean Families are presented based upon specific characteristics such as having gills or lungs, being cold-blooded or warm-blooded or living with a particular type of skeletal structure.  Whether you realize it or not, Fins and Flippers are not the only form of motion for these residents of the watery realm.  Seahorses are the only fish with fins swimming upright.  By gathering water into its body and blasting it out, an octopus wastes no time getting from one point to the other.  All these animals, like us, need air to survive.  How they acquire oxygen varies.  Did you know a sperm whale can go for two hours without taking a breath?

The lack of teeth does not deter sea turtles from cutting their food; knifelike jaws work very well.  In order to leap out of the water a flying fish needs to be speeding at 37 miles per hour.  Like a human's fingerprint, a seahorse's crown is unique.  You won't believe the missing parts on a jellyfish.  One of them is a heart.  Perhaps there's a folktale explaining this and the three hearts found in an octopus.

They are not vegetables but whales are grouped in pods.  Have you ever wished you could look in two different directions at the same time?  Ask a crab how this works.  There are sharks that have to keep swimming or they will suffocate.  It's been said krill form groups large enough to be seen from space.  This is amazing when you realize they are about two inches long.

It's fascinating when you learn why sea snakes shed their skin multiple times (between nine and twenty) during a given year.  Did you know a swordfish can poke a hole through a boat? The facts about tuna will make your head spin especially the number of tuna tins one blue fin tuna can fill.  The colors on a penguin protect it when it's in the water mimicking water and sky.

The second most poisonous animal in the world is the only fish that blinks.  Even tide pools are tiny kingdoms of amazing life.  You probably won't have any luck grabbing a butterfish; they're actually greasy.  We are shown what creatures live at 450 feet all the way down to 20,000 feet and beyond.  Two pages address how large vessels, overfishing and global warming are harming the oceans as well as the danger of plastic.  Thumbnails help readers locate those sardines they could not find.  Six paragraphs on two pages address terms used most often when talking about our oceans.  The title closes with sea creatures bordering a two-page index, white print on a black background.  It's an informative and striking depiction.

Yuval Zommer takes his skill as a researcher and writer and uses it to gather and present the best kind of information about each topic.  He has this childlike curiosity of wanting to know as much as possible but particularly those weird and wonderful tidbits of knowledge.  You are unlikely to forget what he tells you in this book.  His sentences are succinct but entirely conversational.  He has the gift of awakening the seeker in all of us.  Here are some of his enticing words.

Swim goggles
A sea turtle has see-through eyelids that it
uses like a pair of goggles to see underwater. 

Not half bad!
If a jellyfish is cut in half,
it becomes two living jellyfish.

A dolphin sleeps by resting one
half of its brain at a time.

Opening the book case allows you to see the vast and exquisitely detailed sea creatures swimming around the text on the back (speaking about the book) and among the title text on the front.  The letters on the front and all the animals are varnished on the case.  This is a captivating introduction of what the book holds for readers.

On the opening and closing endpapers a pale-blue, nearly marbleized, canvas extends from edge to edge.  Several schools of small fish are featured in the background.  White lines circle and swirl indicating currents.  More brightly colored fish swim in from the upper left-hand corner on the opening endpapers.  On the closing endpapers this group appears in the center.  The smaller schools have moved also.

On the title page, table of contents, and index pages Yuval Zommer uses his ocean residents to frame his text. You are never quite sure the shade of the ocean you will see when turning a page but it's guaranteed you will be intrigued and entertained.  The intricacy of each scene and the elements you find there are certain to have you returning to pages repeatedly.

The illustrations are completely realistic but in Yuval Zommer's signature style.  It's as if he has lived among the animals he draws so they and their habitats are portrayed fully animated.  A seagull turns its head in curiosity at a crab on the sand.  Seals swim through a variety of fish but also lounge on rocks partially covered in seaweed.  Dragonets glide past sea fans, seaweed, octopuses, jellyfish and other inhabitants.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the two pages dedicated to krill.  Along the top of the two pages a ship moves through the waves.  A night sky with a full moon and a few stars is partially covered in clouds.  On the right two other boats move in and out of the scene. The water color is deeper reflecting the darkness of the sky.  Krill move in swarms on the sea.  Creatures who feed on them are present.  On the left a large, hand-held magnifying glass focuses on several krill so readers can see their shape and size.

Without a doubt this title, The Big Book Of The Blue written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer, like its predecessors, will rarely be on the shelves.  Readers of all ages can't resist the illustrations and the facts found in these pages.  I highly recommend this book for your professional and personal book collections.

To learn a bit more about Yuval Zommer please follow the link attached to his name.  Yuval is a guest at the World Book Day site.  You will enjoy the Q & A.  He also has an account on Twitter where he frequently posts artwork.  You can see interior views from this book there.

Please remember to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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