Some of you who were here last year already know my deep love of Claire Nivola’s work.
This year, instead of personal memoir, Nivola returns to nonfiction, a biography of oceanographer Silvia Earle. I heard an NPR interview with Earle the very day I received a copy of this fascinating book. Let’s take a swim through it, shall we? On the title page, caught in a rectanglular frame, we see Sylvia, deep in the water, holding a seahorse the way a bird lover might hold a bluebird. The deep blue endpapers reflect on the white title page, creating a light blue feel. The edges of the frame belie the tape that once held the watercolor paper down, softening the edges a bit. (And, no, I am not going to wax poetic on every single page. But I do want you to see how slowly a committee member might observe every detail of every page.)
On the copyright page, a yellow and blue spotted something-or-other swims toward the dedication. The dedication (to Sylvia, her daughter and a professor) gives a little hint to the evaluator about the factual information that is to follow. (Sibert people are now waking up!) Since I mentioned Sibert, let me flip to the end, just to take a little look-see. The delicately-decorated author’s note explores more deeply the importance of the ocean and those critters swimming along the edges are now labeled. I now know that dedication page is decorated with a blue-spotted stingray! After all my whining about design last week, I am looking at backmatter that has been just as carefully conceived as the rest of the book. Even the bibliography lets us have one more image of Sylvia, this time feeding a dolphin.
Nivola’s use of color is what always strikes me. Sylvia starts out in green and brown New Jersey, where she explored pond life. A move to Florida means another shift in color, to the shallow greenish-blue shallow waters and moves to the aqua Pacific and and blues of the deep waters off the U.S. Virgin Islands. She also insists on showing Sylvia in perspective, allowing the young reader to really see how enormous a humpback whale can be. Nivola’s gentle biography never bogs down in dull minutiae, but her detailed illustrations reward slow reading. A lovely variety of page designs play nicely here–I especially love the eight tiny rectangular paintings that show Sylvia in a plane, in diving gear, on a ship, in a lab, in an aqua suit and in two kinds of submersibles. (And, just for the record, take a look at how those gutters match up on the first full spread!)
I have a boy in my class who loves the ocean and fish. He has noticed this book open by my computer and will be very happy to know he can borrow it.