Monday, May 21, 2012

Life in the Ocean: The story of oceanographer Sylvia Earle (ages 6 - 10)

The ocean has always fascinated me - listening to the sound of the ocean waves, exploring the crevices of tide pools, and learning about all the different animals that call the ocean home. So it was quite natural that I was drawn to Claire Nivola's newest book, Life in the Ocean: The story of oceanographer Sylvia Earle. But, wow, this book is just beautiful. It's a picture book biography that will draw in a wide range of children. It captures the story of a woman who pursued her passion for exploring the ocean, but also coveys the importance of taking care of our vast oceans.
Life in the Ocean:
The story of oceanographer Sylvia Earle
by Claire Nivola
NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2012
ages 6 - 10
available at your local library, my favorite bookstore or on Amazon
Sylvia Earle was drawn to the ocean when she moved to the Florida coast at the age of twelve, but she had always been fascinated by exploring and observing plants and animals all around her. The clear, warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico invited her to explore the fascinating life that filled the underwater world. Sylvia started exploring the world's ocean and soon realized that she wanted to keep diving deeper and seeing more.
Nivola has written a picture book biography that conveys Earle's amazement at the wonders of ocean life and her passion for sharing it with others. I was particularly struck by Earle's encounters with humpback whales:
"Take the humpback whale, forty feet long and weighing 80,000 pounds, who, on the first day of a three-month whale study, swam straight at her (Sylvia), like a freight train bearing down on a mouse. Moments before the collision, the whale swerved gracefully, tilting her great head to look into Sylvia's eyes with her own 'grapefruit-size' eyes as she slid past inches away at high speed."
Earle describes these giants, saying, "Whales are like swallows ... like otters ... They move in any direction... They are sleek and elegant and gorgeous." Nivola effectively weaves in Earle's own observations from journals and notebooks. While this biography does not go through Earle's life in a chronological fashion, it captures her passion and mission in life perfectly.

Throughout, Nivola's illustrations combine a sense of the vastness of the water, the changing hues of its color, and the rich variety of life in the ocean. Her watercolor drawings convey the quiet stillness of underwater dives and the way that human divers are observers visiting these different environs.

Readers will take from this biography a sense of the vast array of wildlife living in the world's oceans. But more than that, they will take away some of Sylvia Earle's amazement at the wonders of the ocean, the importance of learning all we can about the life beneath the surface, and the belief that we all must care and take care of the world's oceans.

For other reviews, check out: The Nonfiction DetectivesShelf-employed, Kirkus Reviews and Waking Braincells.

The review copy was kindly sent by Farrar Straus Giroux / Macmillan Kids. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. What bravery! I can't imagine what I'd do if I was in the path of a whale! Probably freak right out.

  2. What a great book, and about truly fascinating person.