Under the sea

Anglerfish, bowhead whales, sharks, krill…and rubber duckies?! These five nonfiction picture books with an ocean setting should appeal swimmingly to young readers. For more picture books about the beach, tide pools, the ocean, fish, and even surfing, see our 2022 Summer Reading recommendations.

Anglerfish: The Seadevil of the Deep
by Elaine Alexander; illus. by Fiona Fogg
Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.    g
4/22    978-1-5362-1396-6    $17.99

The menacing protagonist, Anglerfish, lurks in the deepest, darkest parts of the ocean, luring prey with her distinctive lantern-like appendage, then finishing them off with her mouthful of sharp teeth. Alexander explains how anglerfish themselves begin life as prey: eggs develop near the surface, small and exposed, and the baby fish dodge hazards such as birds, human fishing nets, and sea creatures. Those that survive grow large enough to descend to the ocean floor. Fogg’s exceptional digital illustrations capture the contrasts; a cute, young, goggle-eyed fry, floating in the lighter blue shallow seas surrounded by her egg jelly, becomes the dangerous seadevil darting across inky pages, sweeping that harsh light back and forth as if the reader could be her next meal. If this isn’t fearsome enough, just wait until Alexander describes the fish’s mating sequence, which does not end well for the male of the species. Appended are a glossary, an index, and a “More About Anglerfish” section that provides additional information on ocean zones, various fish adaptations in low-light environments, hunting behaviors, and other species. DANIELLE J. FORD

The Whale Who Swam Through Time: A 200-Year Journey in the Arctic
by Alex Boersma and Nick Pyenson; illus. by Alex Boersma
Primary    Roaring Brook    48 pp.    g
5/22    978-1-250-80302-3    $19.99

During its lifespan, a bowhead whale, “the longest living mammal in the world,” experiences both physical growth and environmental change, creating the dual focus of this touching and informative narrative. Readers meet one particular (imagined) bowhead — a female that spends her entire life in the Arctic — throughout four distinct time segments: two hundred years ago, one hundred fifty years ago, fifty years ago, and the present. Each section opens with a soft-hued, double-page illustration depicting the same setting. In this place, the calf begins life in the peaceful ocean, surrounded by snow and ice and abundant wildlife. As the narrative progresses, several navigation ships appear, seemingly harmless, but precursors to nineteenth-century whalers with their deadly harpoons, and later oil rigs and submarines. In the present, the once-quiet Arctic is not only noisy, making whale song communication difficult, but also an area that now includes cruise and cargo ships, oil spills, plastic waste, and abandoned fishing nets. Dramatic watercolor and gouache illustrations, primarily in deep blue, black, and white, depict changes on land and sea: receding ice; fewer walruses and polar bears; factories and settlements replacing igloos. Extensive authors’ notes provide scientific information on bowheads; brief descriptions of other Arctic animals depicted in the illustrations; and historical overviews of whaling, the Indigenous people of the region, and the search for the Northwest Passage; and acknowledge the limitations of anthropomorphizing the central subject. BETTY CARTER

Sharks: A Mighty Bite-y History
by Miriam Forster; illus. by Gordy Wright
Primary, Intermediate    Abrams    80 pp.    g
5/22    978-1-4197-4773-1    $24.99
e-book ed.  978-1-6470-0702-7    $18.65

Forster describes shark and shark-like species in a tour through geologic time, from almost four hundred million years ago to the present day, highlighting ancient and modern creatures. The book mainly focuses on species with notable features: odd appendages such as a flattop dorsal fin, bony spikes, or a hammer-shaped head; the ability to survive in fresh water; and extremes in size. The shark profiles are accompanied by information about environmental conditions on land and water, contemporaneous marine species, fossil remains, and thoughtful explanations of the mass extinctions and extremes in climate that marked the end of each geologic period. Throughout the timeline are “Toolbox” asides, which creatively signal the behaviors, anatomical features, and adaptations that contributed to a group’s survival. Wright’s illustrations of sharks swimming through their watery habitats provide lots of details to observe; the creatures’ rounded, cartoonlike eyes imbue them with personality. DANIELLE J. FORD

Good Eating: The Short Life of Krill
by Matt Lilley; illus. by Dan Tavis
Primary    Tilbury    40 pp.    g
1/22    978-0-88448-867-5    $18.95

An omniscient narrator notices a small egg at the surface of the Southern Ocean. Using direct address, the narrator speaks to the egg as it floats downward and changes (“you’re not an egg anymore”) into a six-armed oval, or, as a small label informs readers, a nauplius. Now the creature reverses direction and swims toward the surface, adding legs and a shell, which it molts. For about four weeks, it continues this two-mile upward journey, complete with more alterations (such as forming a mouth, stomach, and eyes) and more molting. Finally, a mature krill emerges, eating and growing and molting some more. The narrator continues commenting on the crustacean, pointing out its bioluminescence, its changing color as it eats small plants, and the millions of like creatures it joins. The slightly cartoonish illustrations of goggle-eyed krill complement the light tone of the text but never distract from the scientific fact that krill are the keystone species of Earth’s southernmost ocean. Illustrations show swarms of krill eating algae and phytoplankton only to, in turn, be devoured by seabirds, penguins, and whales. The narrator drolly comments: “Krill are really good at eating and krill are really good eatin’.” Back matter includes additional facts about krill; recommended books and online content (including a computer game) encourage readers to learn more. BETTY CARTER

Ducks Overboard!: A True Story of Plastic in Our Oceans
by Markus Motum; illus. by the author
Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.    g
9/21    978-1-5362-1772-8    $17.99

As in his 2018 title Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover, Motum smartly employs a whimsical character introducing solid scientific concepts, a task this book’s child-friendly star (Rubber Duckie, you’re the one!) performs swimmingly. Our hero began life almost thirty years ago when it was produced in China, loaded onto a cargo ship, and shipped to the U.S. for distribution. While in transit in the North Pacific, its container was swept overboard and the contents — including twenty-eight thousand rubber ducks — dumped in the water. Rubber Duckie is left helplessly floating in the ocean, and readers receive a clear, understandable introduction to oceanography and the environmental threats of plastic in the world’s seas. Bright digital illustrations depict the marine life below, including a whale swallowing a plastic bag and a sea turtle caught in an abandoned fishing net. Expository sentences, with their smaller typeface distinguishing them from the main narrative, add context to these sightings. Two uncluttered maps, enhanced with relevant notes (such as the effects of the flotsam on the Great Barrier Reef), show the global paths of many of the real-life twenty-eight thousand. Rubber Duckie, however, flounders in the Pacific Garbage Patch; is again tossed out of the gyre; and is finally discovered on a beach, picked up by one of the many volunteers who attempt to clean up our shores. Back matter provides a diagram, accompanying scientific discussion of ocean currents, information about the 1992 rubber duck toy spill, facts about plastics, and ways readers can help or become citizen scientists. BETTY CARTER

From the May 2022 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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