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Ocean Sunlight

ocean sunlightSince Robin posted about an ocean book, I thought I’d step in next with another. Ocean Sunlight is the second offering from co-authors Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm and it’s Bang’s third book about light.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve spent some time with Molly Bang recently, gaining a little inside knowledge about this book and its predecessors. (Sometime soon I will be posting something on the Horn Book website about my day with Salley Mavor and Molly in Falmouth.) If I was on the real Caldecott Committee, I would have to recuse myself when the time came to discuss this book. But happily, I am NOT on the committee, so I will go ahead with this post!

The text takes some rather complex scientific ideas and makes them understandable to an elementary-aged audience. This is tricky stuff: how light filters through water, how it helps plankton grow, how plankton forms the first ring of the ocean’s food chain, and — the crux of this book — how light affects everything in the ocean including everything too deep for the sun to reach.

The art is beautiful in its own right, and it is doing double duty. The pictures aren’t just here to remind us how beautiful the ocean is and give us a break from all the science in the text. Instead, they help explain everything in the text. Bang creates a visual shorthand (explained in the detailed notes at the end of the book) to visually represent certain scientific elements. Yellow dots indicate light in both particle and wave form. A yellow outline is used around any plant or animal that has absorbed light’s energy, whether directly or indirectly. Other colored dots denote molecules — white for oxygen, blue for hydrogen, black for carbon — allowing depictions of compounds like water and carbon dioxide.

With all this detail, the book could have been a big mess. Instead, the expansive blue backgrounds gradually grow darker as we go deeper, making the yellow highlights glow like phosphorescence. Even when the science becomes more complex, the art remains clean and balanced. If you haven’t seen this book, go find it and take a look. Imagine trying to depict these ideas visually without creating a page design that is hopelessly confusing and cluttered. It’s a tricky balancing act and Molly Bang makes it look easy.

If you want to know more about Chisholm’s and Bang’s process, here is my interview with them from July’s Notes from the Horn Book. Their original answers were about five times longer — no kidding! These books are a labor of love for both of them and I would love to see them getting more attention. So yes, I am a little biased.

What do you think? Does this book have a chance with the committee? Will it depend on how many of them have an interest in science?

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Rebecca Hachmyer says:

    I actually just signed on to see if you guys were talking about this title yet! I LOVE this book, and just featured it at our Copperfield’s Books Educator Night here in Sebastopol, CA. Every spread is an engaging and informative delight to the eye. Molly Bang just really understands exactly how a picture book works 🙂 and does beautiful things with the interplay between text, image, and layout. I am eating up all of the vibrant blues and greens, and also the way she uses space to create pauses and to convey the energy of the narrative. Ocean Sunlight is my Medal hopeful, but I predict that it will receive the honor (as a close second to This Is Not My Hat.) Fingers crossed for the gold!

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