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Explore the depths of the ocean, the creatures that survive there, and the history of humankind’s relationship with marine life in these nonfiction books for younger and middle readers.
Dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles are ocean stars and popular subjects of books for children. This annotated bibliography dives deeper to look at more unusual inhabitants that call the darkest and deepest regions of the ocean home. Frilled sharks, giant spider crabs, fangtooth fish, giant tube worms, and vampire squid are just a few of these fascinating creatures. But it’s been less than a century since humans were able to explore deeper regions of the ocean and see these animals firsthand. Some of these early underwater explorers, as well as modern-day aquanauts, are also featured here.
Marine Biology and Oceanography
Astronaut, Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact. By Jennifer Swanson. 2018. National Geographic, $18.99 (9781426328671). Gr. 5–8.
From dealing with pressure, temperature, and buoyancy to surviving in remote and hostile environments, astronauts and aquanauts show off their skills in this unique book. Some areas of focus include similarities in training, living spaces, technology, and exploration missions. Visually attractive, the text also sports high-quality photos of these STEM fields in action.
The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs. By Kate Messner. Illus. by Matthew Forsythe. 2018. Chronicle, $17.99 (9781452133508). K–Gr. 3.
Although his dad was a NASA engineer, Ken Nedimyer was more interested in exploring the waters off of Florida. While scuba diving, he noticed that the coral reefs were beginning to die. Later, as an adult, he began a coral restoration project that has expanded around the world. Illustrated with luminous, soft artwork, the book also explains coral’s interdependence on other species.
Deep-Sea Exploration. By Wil Mara. 2015. Scholastic/Children’s Press, $8.95 (9780531211731).
After a historical survey of deep-sea exploration, this entry in the Calling All Innovators: A Career for You series presents an overview of the field and a variety of career opportunities, including marine ecologist, research scientist, and submersible pilot. It also describes filmmaker James Cameron’s technological contributions to oceanography with his Deepsea Challenger submersible.
Flying Deep: Climb inside Deep-Sea Submersible Alvin. By Michelle Cusolito. Illus. by Nicole Wong. 2018. Charlesbridge, $17.99 (9781580898119). Gr. 1–3.
Readers can imagine themselves as a pilot of the deep-sea submersible Alvin in this sensory-rich picture book that uses second-person narration to describe a typical mission in the Pacific Ocean. After squeezing into Alvin, the pilot and two scientists observe changes in marine life as they diver deeper and deeper. On the ocean floor, they investigate, record, and analyze this extreme ecosystem.
Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle. By Claire A. Nivola. Illus. by the author. 2012. Farrar, $17.99 (9780374380687). K–Gr. 3.
In this picture-book biography, illustrated with delicately detailed paintings, Nivola depicts oceanographer Sylvia Earle’s early interest in nature and the many creatures she encountered as she made deeper and deeper dives. An author’s note highlights Earle’s roles as an entrepreneur in marine science and conservation. For older readers, there’s Dennis Fertig’s Sylvia Earle: Ocean Explorer (2014).
Manfish: The Story of Jacques Cousteau. By Jennifer Berne. Illus. by Eric Puybaret. 2008. Chronicle, $16.99 (9780811860635). K–Gr. 3.
Lush acrylic paintings in a range of blues and greens illustrate this picture-book biography. Poetic text describes how Cousteau experimented with gear to make longer and deeper ocean dives, and with film to bring underwater images to humans worldwide. It also tells how the scientist used his film to highlight polluted oceans. See also Dan Yaccarino’s The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau (2009).
Marine Biology: Cool Women Who Dive. By Karen Bush Gibson. Illus. by Lena Chandhok. 2016. Nomad, $19.95 (9781619304314). Gr. 4–7.
Part of the Girls in Science series, this volume offers a compact introduction to a career in marine biology, with a focus on successful women in the field, both historically and at work today. It emphasizes their education and training, accomplishments, and obstacles and gender discrimination they’ve faced. Primary sources, text boxes, and profiles of women pioneers are also included.
Ocean Engineering and Designing for the Deep Sea. By Rebecca Sjonger. 2016. Crabtree, $9.95 (9780778775409). Gr. 4–7.
Identifying the relationship between oceanographer scientists and ocean engineers, this title in the Engineering in Action series looks at the numerous benefits of exploring the ocean’s terrain and the challenges of designing underwater crafts. Filled with profiles of engineers and photos of engineers in action, it includes a detailed challenge and takes readers through the design process.
The Octopus Scientists: Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk. By Sy Montgomery. Illus. by Keith Ellenbogen. 2015. HMH, $18.99 (9780544232709). Gr. 5–8.
This entry in the Scientists in the Field series follows an expedition to the French Polynesian Island of Mooréa to study Pacific day octopuses in the wild and unlock some of the mystery surrounding this highly intelligent, tentacled shape-shifter. Complementing the informational text is spectacular underwater photography, depicting octopuses with a range of colors and patterns. Also in the series: Montgomery’s The Great White Shark Scientist (2016).
Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere. By Barb Rosenstock. Illus. by Katherine Roy. 2018. Little, Brown, $18.99 (9780316393829). K–Gr. 3.
Vivid text and dramatic illustrations evoke wonder and suspense as Otis Barton and Will Beebe design a bathysphere and become, in 1930, the first humans to explore the deep sea firsthand. Their journey is palpable as they descend 800 feet below the ocean’s surface, encountering species never seen before and narrowly avoiding mishaps. An author’s note provides more background information.
Searching for Great White Sharks: A Shark Diver’s Quest for Mr. Big. By Mary M. Cerullo. 2014. Capstone/Compass Point, $31.32 (9780756548841). Gr. 4–7.
Underwater photographer Jeff Rotman’s favorite shark is the great white, which he calls Mr. Big. This entry in the Shark Expedition series follows Rotman as he investigates and photographs great whites around the world. Along the way, he meets other shark enthusiasts, scientists, and conservationists. Jaw-dropping photos of sharks in the wild add to the thrill of this informational book, which will appeal to reluctant readers as well as researchers.
Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist. By Jess Keating. Illus. by Marta Álvarez Miguéns. 2017. Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, $17.99 (9781492642046). PreS–Gr. 3.
Even as a girl, Eugenie Clark wanted to know everything about sharks. Later, as a scientist, when she heard that sharks were “mindless monsters,” she studied and trained them. After debunking many myths, she earned the nickname Shark Lady. Accompanied by expressive illustrations, this picture-book biography concludes with shark facts, a time line, and more details about Clark’s life. See also Heather Lang’s Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark (2016).
Solving the Puzzle under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor. By Robert Burleigh. Illus. by Raúl Colón. 2016. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, $17.99 (9781481416009). Gr. 1–3.
The daughter of a mapmaker, Marie Tharp became interested in mapping at a young age. Textured illustrations accent this picture-book biography, which describes how Tharp persevered through sexism to become a research scientist. Her notable project: mapping the world’s oceans. Through this ground-breaking work, she confirmed the theories of tectonic plates and continental drift.
Biggest, Baddest Book of Sea Creatures. By Jen Schoeller. 2015. ABDO, $17.95 (9781624035173). Gr. 2–4.
Bigger than dinosaurs. Living ooze. Toxic killer. These are a few descriptions of the ocean’s more unusual animals, many of which live deep below the surface. In this title in the Biggest, Baddest Books series, high-interest visuals and engaging descriptions emphasize the venomous stonefish that looks like a rock, the stomach-stretching black swallower, and other strange creatures.
A Day in the Deep. By Kevin Kurtz. Illus. by Erin E. Hunter. 2013. Arbordale, $17.95 (9781607186175).
Rhyming text and vivid illustrations take readers deeper and deeper below the ocean’s surface. Each double-page spread reveals a new depth and a sampling of its amazing creatures—such as a long pelican eel, which lives at 4,000 feet, or a bioluminescent anglerfish at 5,000 feet—catching prey or trying to avoid capture. Extensive back matter explains ocean zones, deep-sea pressure, and bioluminescence.
Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea. By Steve Jenkins. Illus. by the author. 2009. HMH, $17 (9780618966363). Gr. 2–4.
With his signature cut-paper collage, Jenkins takes readers from the ocean’s surface to its floor. Along the way, they encounter marine life in the sunlit zone, twilight zone, dark zone, abyssal plain, and hydrothermal vents. The journey ends in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean. Concluding thumbnails provide more information on the featured animals.
Giant Squid. By Candace Fleming. Illus. by Eric Rohmann. 2016. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $18.99 (9781596435995). Gr. 2–5.
As Fleming describes this still-elusive creature, Rohmann’s oil paintings focus on one aspect of the squid at a time, with a dark color palette adding an eerie, deep-sea feel. A dramatic foldout four-page spread gives readers a look at the entire squid. A concluding diagram and author’s note offer scientific facts. Mary M. Cerullo’s Giant Squid (2012) presents more detailed information on this animal and scientists trying to study it.
Glow: Animals with Their Own Night-Lights. By W. H. Beck. 2016. HMH, $17.99 (9780544416666). K–Gr. 2.
After giving a definition of bioluminescence and a few examples of bioluminescent land animals, this informational book focuses on marine life that glows. In eye-catching photos that simulate the ocean, these glowing animals stand out against a black background. Simple text explains many reasons why they use bioluminescence, such as for hunting and protection. Marc Zimmer’s Bioluminescence (2015) covers the topic for older readers.
How Deep Is the Ocean? By Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld. Illus. by Eric Puybaret. 2016. Harper, $17.99 (9780062328205). PreS–Gr. 3.
After scuba diving in the sunlight zone of the ocean, two children journey deeper in a submersible in this Let’s Read and Find Out Science title. As they pass through the twilight zone, midnight zone, and abyssal zone, finally reaching the Mariana Trench of the hadal zone, the text describes each environment and colorful, kid-friendly illustrations display each zone’s typical animals.
The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea. By Brenda Z. Guiberson. Illus. by Gennady Spirin. 2015. Holt, $17.99 (9780805099614). Gr. 1–3.
Twelve animals vie for the title of “most amazing creature in the sea.” Matching the equally grotesque and fascinating paintings are the animals’ first-person descriptions. For instance, the vampire squid brags about its blue blood and ability to turn inside out, while the hagfish boasts about secreting slime when attacked. A concluding note acknowledges the interdependence of species.
Secrets of the Sea. By Kate Baker. Illus. by Eleanor Taylor. 2017. Candlewick/Big Picture, $24.99 (9780763698393). Gr. 4–7.
Moving from the shallow sea, kelp forest, and coral reef to the open ocean and deep sea, this large-size book introduces varied marine life, from the tropical coconut octopus to the deep-water atolla jelly, in each ocean habitat. Double-page profiles comprise a luminous, full-page illustration as well as the animal’s Latin name, its size, a brief description, and interesting facts.
Extend students’ reading with these books that provide overviews of and quicker looks into the complex world of the ocean.
Ocean. By Miranda MacQuitty. 2014. DK, $9.99 (9781465420541). Gr. 3–7.
Like other books in the DK Eyewitness series, a hodgepodge of photographs of specimens, artifacts, diagrams, models, and portraits pair with digestible morsels of text to cover all strata of the ocean.
Oceans. By Dan Green. Illus. by Simon Basher. 2012. Kingfisher, $14.99 (9780753468210). Gr. 5–8.
This Basher Science volume highlights ocean zones, tides, weather systems, currents, animal life, and abuse by humans, all personified in Basher’s tongue-in-cheek cartoon portraits.
Seymour Simon’s Extreme Oceans. By Seymour Simon. 2013. Chronicle, $17.99 (9781452108339). Gr. 3–5.
As Simon emphasizes superlatives and high-interest topics, such as the world’s highest tides and largest ocean animals, he supplies basic knowledge that gives the extremes a meaningful context.
Ultimate Oceanpedia: The Most Complete Ocean Reference Ever. By Christina Wilsdon. 2017. National Geographic, $24.99 (9781426325502). Gr. 5–8.
Living up to its title, this fact-filled book covers almost every aspect of oceans, from plant and animal dwellers to geography, physics, weather, exploration, and human interaction.
Why Is the Sea Salty? And Other Questions about Oceans. By Benjamin Richmond. 2014. Sterling, $12.95 (9781454906766).
Using a question-and-answer format, this entry in the Good Question! series explains ocean composition and motion, some of its inhabitants, and related scientific studies. Maps, drawings, close-up photographs, and realistic images enhance the information.
Angela Leeper is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Center at the University of Richmond (Va.).
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