January 2 – It’s Book Blitz Month & Interview with Author Lydia Lukidis

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About the Holiday

If your motto is “So many books, so little time” then you’ll be happy to know that January is Book Blitz Month! During this month book lovers are given the green light to read as many books as possible! For kids, Book Blitz Month can be particularly exciting as they discover new fiction and nonfiction that captivates their imagination. To celebrate, take your kids to a local bookstore and the library to find new and favorite books to binge on all month long. If you don’t have a dedicated space for your children’s books, this month is also a great time to create a home library for your child so that they have a shelf, a crate, or even a whole bookcase of stories they can enjoy again and again!

I’d like to thank Lydia Lukidis for sharing a digital copy of Deep, Deep Down: The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. You can read my interview with Lydia below.

Deep, Deep Down: The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench

Written by Lydia Lukidis | Illustrated by Juan Calle

 

Imagine being invited to visit a mysterious place where only a few have ever been; where only they have truly seen the creatures that inhabit it; and where it’s murky depths are accessible by only one type of vehicle. Would you dare to go? Lydia Lukidis and Juan Calle extend just such an invitation, but no notes for missing school, packing a suitcase, or plucking of courage need to be considered, for through their phenomenal book, readers find a seat in the incredible submersible that will transport them to “…the deepest underwater valley in the world”: the Mariana Trench.

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Image copyright Juan Calle, 2022, text copyright Lydia Lukidis, 2022. Courtesy of Capstone Editions.

The submersible plunges deeper and deeper to where the sun doesn’t penetrate. Here, in the darkness, “food is scarce, and a bone-chilling cold blasts through the water. Earthquakes shake the ocean floor, and the water pressure, like a thick, heavy blanket with a thousand hands, presses down, / down, / down.” What flashes by the porthole window? A monster? No—a fish with a long and slender tail perfectly suited for its austere home, where it can survive for months without eating if necessary. “Diving deeper, a long, thin body slinks and sways, ever so slowly. The cutthroat eel is not fearsome, some rather, mesmerizing.”

The light beam of the submersible also reveals feathery crinoids “twirling and whirling like an underwater acrobat,” and a curious snailfish “dances, ghost-like, to the rhythms of the ocean” as it comes to take its own peek in the window from the other side. Snailfish aren’t affected by the heavy water pressure because “they can swim deeper than any other fish in the world. That’s because their bodies contain RMAO. This special substance protects the fish from high pressure, making sure their bodies aren’t crushed.”

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Image copyright Juan Calle, 2022, text copyright Lydia Lukidis, 2022. Courtesy of Capstone Editions.

It might seem impossible to sink still lower, but the submersible plummets into water populated by tiny creatures, almost insect-like with their multiple pairs of legs and long antennae that propel them and help them find food. But explorers are not at the very bottom of the Mariana Trench even yet. The submersible floats slowly down to the bottom—“the very deepest spot on Earth. Look out the window . . . and witness a world of surprises.” Extraordinary creatures, some small, soft, and translucent and others—neither plant nor animal—large and with protective shells, and all adapted to thrive in their formidable surroundings will amaze you.

At last it’s time for the submersible to return to the surface. Slowly, it makes its way through the darkness to lighter seas, where it passes by more familiar fish and other creatures on its way to “SPLASH!” surfacing once again and “leaving the marvels of the Mariana Trench far below” still waiting to be explored again.

Insets of scientific information on diet, anatomical adaptations, and other aspects that make them suited to their environment also accompany the introduction of each sea creature.

Back matter includes an illustrated cutaway of the ocean above and descending into the Mariana Trench with various sea creatures labeled and oriented to the level in which they are found; “Did You Know?” facts about the water pressure in the Trench, its creation, and how many people have visited; why the Mariana Trench matters; an author’s note; and a glossary.

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Image copyright Juan Calle, 2022, text copyright Lydia Lukidis, 2022. Courtesy of Capstone Editions.

When undertaking an excursion into unknown territory—especially through words and pictures—explorers need guides who can truly immerse them not only in the sights and sounds of an area but also the rhythms and almost intangible aura that makes it so uniquely compelling. Readers of all ages find that quality in Deep, Deep Down. Lydia Lukidis’s lithe and lyrical language is at once straightforward—answering questions any reader might have—and evocative—capturing the enigmatic and secret world at the bottom of the Earth as it flashes into view or slowly reveals itself and retreats again. Her vocabulary, rich with active verbs, ensures that readers appreciate the Mariana Trench as teeming with life and alive with wonders more amazing than we can even imagine.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself forgetting that you’re looking at illustrations of a vampire squid, anglerfish, rattail fish, cutthroat eels, crinoids, and even the rocky and sandy ocean floor instead of photographs as you inspect Juan Calle’s magnificent pages. As the submersible—seen from many angles—plunges into darker and darker water, bioluminescent fish begin to appear alongside their grayer sea mates (children will enjoy pointing out the dark shapes that lurk in the shadows of the submersible and the stony outcroppings.)

As a rattail drifts into view, each rose-gold scale is visible, shimmering in the beam of light thrown from the submersible; it’s blue eye seemingly as curious about readers as they are about this unusual fish. Calle mesmerizes with careful details, shading, and perspective that portrays each creature in all of their weird and wonderful floating, creeping, or stock-still spectacle.

Deep, Deep Down: The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench will thrill ocean and nature lovers and will spur increased interest and research into this unique, nearly untouched habitat that we are only now beginning to discover. The book is a must for any environmental science enthusiast at home and for all classroom, school, and public library collections.

Ages 7 – 10

Capstone Editions, 2022 | ISBN 978-1684466153

About the Illustrator

Juan Calle is a former biologist turned science illustrator, trained on the Science Illustration program at UC Monterrey Bay. He worked early on his illustrator career for field guides of plants and animals of his country of origin, Colombia, and now owns and works in his art studio, LIBERUM DONUM in Bogota, Columbia, creating concept art, storyboarding and his passion: comic books. You can connect with Juan on Instagram.

Take a plunge into Deep, Deep Down with this book trailer!

 

Meet Lydia Lukidis

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Lydia Lukidis is the author of 50+ trade and educational books for children. Her titles include DANCING THROUGH SPACE: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights (Albert Whitman, 2024), DEEP, DEEP, DOWN: The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench (Capstone, 2023), THE BROKEN BEES’ NEST (Kane Press, 2019) which was nominated for a Cybils Award, and NO BEARS ALLOWED (Clear Fork Media, 2019). A science enthusiast from a young age, she now incorporates her studies in science and her everlasting curiosity into her books.

Lydia is an active member of SCBWI, CANSCAIP, 12 x 12, and The Authors Guild. She’s very involved in the kidlit community and also volunteers as a judge on Rate your Story. Another passion of hers is fostering love for children’s literacy through the writing workshops she regularly offers in elementary schools. Lydia is represented by literary agent Miranda Paul from the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

You can visit her on her Website (with order links) | her Blog | Facebook | Twitter and you’ll also find her on Goodreads.

Hi Lydia! I’m really thrilled to have the chance to talk to you about this gorgeous book, how it all came together, and your other work as a writer.

You have degrees in Pure and Applied Science as well as English Literature. After graduating from college did you work in the science field? If so, can you talk about your work a little? How has your science background influenced your writing?

When I was younger, I was drawn to both science and the arts. I once saw them as mutually exclusive but then came to realize how connected these disciplines are. Upon graduating university, I did something completely out of left field but that satiated my artistic desires. I started my own jewelry line! After that, I became a puppeteer, writing plays for children. That brought me back to my love of writing, and here I am writing kidlit. I often focus on STEM topics so it’s full circle. I feel like this is truly where I belong.

What drew you to write about the Mariana Trench for children? What kind of research did you do in creating this book?

In 2019, I read an article about how scientists found a plastic bag floating in the Mariana Trench. They also discovered plastic in the belly of various marine animals. My heart sank. I wondered how we human beings managed to start damaging one of the most remote places on the planet.

At that point, I didn’t know that much about the Mariana Trench and my curiosity grew. I began my research on the internet and then came to realize most of that information was false. The book really came together once I interviewed a slew of experts (7 in total) who’ve devoted their lives to studying the deep sea, the hadal zone, and geology. They also helped me find the right books and articles to read for updated information.

What was the most surprising thing you learned during your research? Do you have a favorite creature or one that you’d like to learn more about?

The most surprising thing was that despite the hostile conditions in the trench (no sunlight, scarcity of food, and crushing pressure), life still thrives deep, deep down. Though, the creatures are not what you would expect. There aren’t any sharks, for example, or any large creatures for that matter. My favorite has to be the sea cucumber. I must have watched hours and hours of them oscillating and floating, like underwater ballet. I was love struck!

Your storytelling in Deep, Deep Down is so fluid and as mesmerizing as the Mariana Trench itself. Can you talk about your writing process for this book and how you achieved such a visceral experience for readers?

Wow, what a compliment! Writing this book was nothing short of magical. I’m normally very hard on myself and many books don’t even make it to my agent. Other books take years to figure out. With nonfiction, finding the right structure is crucial. But somehow, with DEEP, DEEP DOWN, I didn’t have my usual “tormented writing struggle.” The writing was fluid and literally flowed out, and never changed in structure. There was a lot of editing, to be sure, I had to rewrite the manuscripts over 55 times to get the facts right, but the vision never changed. Will that always be the case? No! The next book I tried to write crashed and burned (maybe to be resurrected one day), so I’m grateful for this experience.

As a biologist who turned to illustration and who studied at the University of California at Monterrey Bay, Juan Calle must have been a dream match for Deep, Deep Down. Can you talk about how was he paired with your manuscript? When during the publication process did you begin to see his work? What emotions did his interpretations of your words stir in you?

Yes! It was Capstone who wisely suggested Juan. When I saw the proofs, I think my jaw hit the floor. He did SUCH a great job at getting all the details right (and believe me, it was tough—I had made a 20-page document with reference photos and notes vetted by Dr. Gerringer, my main consultant.) Although we never met, spoke, or even corresponded via email, Juan was able to follow my direction and bring his own flavor to the table. I think I first started seeing artwork about 8 months ago, so it was a speedy process. His work was stunning and scientifically accurate, although we couldn’t always draw everything to scale. It was also infused with magic.

What do you hope children will take away from Deep, Deep Down?

My goal in writing this book was twofold: firstly, to educate children on the deepest ocean of our world and debunk the myth that “scary” creatures live within its depths, and, secondly, to talk about ocean conservation and the importance of this fascinating ecosystem.

Kids may think the Trench is so far removed from their lives and that their actions don’t matter, or that what happens in the Trench doesn’t affect them. But that’s simply not true. Everything is connected, and I’d like to remind them that our actions affect our planet, even in its deepest spots.

You’ve written over 50 books for children and are very active in the writing community. What do you love best about being an author? What do you find rewarding about helping other writers succeed?

Thank you for the sweet words! I got my start with work-for-hire and most of my published books are for the educational market. DEEP, DEEP DOWN is my first trade nonfiction book, so it feels like a big accomplishment.

What do I love about writing? Everything. That said, it’s also a tough profession and every year, I usually have a moment when I reassess why I keep choosing this craft.

I also love supporting the kidlit community; it comes deep from the heart. I know what it is to struggle as a writer, and I see so many others struggling, hustling, working so hard. I like to support and acknowledge their efforts. Every little achievement is a milestone and should be celebrated!

What’s up next for you?

I’m excited to have just announced my second trade nonfiction book, DANCING THROUGH SPACE: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights (Albert Whitman, 2024). I actually wrote this in 2015, and it’s a very long and convoluted story about how it got acquired. I did think long and hard whether or not I should tell this story and I ultimately decided to follow my heart because I felt so connected to the hook of the story. I invested in a sensitivity reader and will do so again once we start the editing process at Albert Whitman. They also chose a fantastic illustrator, Sawyer Cloud.

Other than that, I’m knee deep in other WIPs, some of them fiction. I wanted to try to stay in one lane as an author but it’s just not happening—it seems there are different stories of different genres inside me that need to come out. I’m always following the flow of my inspiration, which is often not linear!

Thanks again, Lydia, for sharing so much about your writing life! I know readers are going to love Deep, Deep Down and will be looking forward to Dancing Through Space!

Book Blitz Month Activity

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Creatures of the Mariana Trench Word Search

 

The Mariana Trench is home to so many amazing creatures! Can you find the names of seventeen in this printable word search puzzle?

Creatures of the Mariana Trench Word Search Puzzle | Creatures of the Mariana Trench Word Search Solution

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You can find Deep, Deep Down: The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 11 – Play in the Sand Day

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About the Holiday

Is there any better way to spend a summer day than playing on a sandy beach? That wet, compact surface is perfect for running on, digging in, and, of course, building sandcastles with. And the soft, dry areas are great for beachcombing, wiggling toes in, playing volleyball, and simply strolling along. So head out to your favorite beach and have some family fun! 

A Beach Chase: An A – Z Alphabet book

By Sarah Downie

 

Holly and Logan love playing at the beach. Today, Holly is looking “for shells to add to her collection.” She spies something “among the anemones” and rushes into the water, where she discovers an anchor. Holly also finds a conch shell and, as she’s admiring it, a girl floats by on a buoy and asks her what she’s going to do with it. But this is no ordinary girl—Holly realizes that she’s a mermaid. A mermaid who quickly grabs Holly’s new shell and takes off, diving deep into the ocean.

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Image copyright Sarah Downie, 2020, courtesy of Leaning Rock Press.

And so begins a wet and wild chase to recover Holly’s shell. Logan and Holly swim past various sea creatures, come to an island, and mistake “just a jumble of jellyfish” for the mermaid they’re looking for. Undeterred, they swim on until they see a kayak in the distance. “They kick, kick, kick towards” it and then paddle out to sea through a mass of kelp. On their way, they spot other creatures and seaside landmarks—even freeing an octopus from a net—before spying a tell-tail flick in a tide pool. 

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Image copyright Sarah Downie, 2020, courtesy of Leaning Rock Press.

Jumping in, they discover another world, one where mermaids and mermen are having a party. But where is the mermaid who took Holly’s shell? Holly and Logan swim through the party and a zig-zag-y tunnel before finally spotting her near an outcropping of rocks at the ocean floor. The mermaid shows Holly and Logan the very special reason she needed the conch shell. She didn’t want it for herself, but for a hermit crab that “was in need of a home.” 

Immediately, Holly offers to bring more shells from her collection for other hermit crabs if the mermaid will let her and Logan come again. The mermaid enthusiastically agrees and invites her new friends to stay and join the party.

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Image copyright Sarah Downie, 2020, courtesy of Leaning Rock Press.

Back matter includes a visual dictionary that depicts each illustration in the book and lists words for the objects or creatures corresponding to each letter found there. Kids may also spy other, unlisted letter-appropriate creatures (such as sand dollars on the “S” page) or actions (like Logan’s being nice to the octopus on the “N” and “O” spreads or the octopus peeking above the waves on the “P” page).

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Image copyright Sarah Downie, 2020, courtesy of Leaning Rock Press.

In her eye-catching art, Sarah Downie cleverly incorporates the letters of the alphabet while inviting readers to join Holly and Logan on their search for the mermaid. From the shallows of the seashore to the far depths of the ocean, kids will eagerly follow this quick-paced story while feeling pride and excitement in spotting all the hidden objects. Well-conceived for its target audience, the illustrations contain a range of difficulty so that little ones as well as older children will enjoy the search-and-find aspects of this book.

Downie’s engaging storytelling includes plenty of alliteration that reinforces the sound of each letter while promoting letter recognition throughout the book. She also infuses her story with themes of kindness, sharing, and care for the environment that will resonate with young readers.

A charming and clever story that transcends its alphabet roots to engage readers on many levels, A Beach Chase: An A – Z Alphabet book is playful fun that kids will want to dip into again and again. The book would make a terrific take-along on seaside or lakeside beach trips, where kids could extend the story’s search-and-find to their own experience. It could also spark creative cross-curricular lessons for teachers and homeschoolers and would be a welcome addition to any home library to enjoy throughout the year.

Ages 3 – 8

Leaning Rock Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1950323241

You can learn more about Sarah Downie, her books, and her art on her website.

Play in the Sand Day Activity

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A trip to the beach can inspire all kinds of games and puzzles! Sarah Downie has created an activity pack with 15 challenges to get you searching and having fun just like Holly and Logan. You can download it here:

A Beach Chase Activity Pack

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You can find A Beach Chase: An A – Z Alphabet book at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 4 – World Habitat Day

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About the Holiday

Today we have two special holidays to share: World Habitat Day and National Ship in a Bottle Day! World Habitat Day was created by the United Nations to emphasize the right for all to have access to a home, or a habitat. It is meant to teach more about both humanitarian and environmental issues, as well as their many intersections. This year’s theme is Accelerating Urban Action for a Carbon-free World. To learn more about World Habitat Day and the various activities happening this year to honor it, check out the United Nations World Habitat Day Page.

Today also marks National Ship in a Bottle Day, a holiday founded in 2013 on the birthday of Jack Hinkley, the founder of the Ship in Bottle Association of America. This holiday is meant to celebrate the magical craft of placing a tiny model ship within a glass bottle with a narrow opening. It is a tricky feat that takes a lot of preparation, skill, and careful execution.

You are probably now wondering what book could possibly bridge these two seemingly divergent holidays. The answer is Shipwreck Reefs— a nonfiction picture book from the Imagine This! series published by Albert Whitman & Company.

Thanks to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of Shipwreck Reefs for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Review by Dorothy Levine

Shipwreck Reefs

Written by Aimée M. Bissonette | Illustrated by Adèle Leyris

 

“Splash! Kick! Swim down into the deep.” Readers join scuba divers in learning about coral and reefs. However, not all of these reefs discussed are typical. They are sometimes born from sunken shipwrecks or other non-living, human-placed materials. The book begins with some background on coral reefs, and then readers flip the page to a sunken ship, inhabited by seagrass, algae, barnacles and colorful fish. “But is this a coral reef? Yes…and no.”

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Image copyright Adèle Leyris, 2021, text copyright Aimée M. Bissonette, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Shipwrecks provide hard surfaces for small animals like baby corals and barnacles to attach onto and grow into colonies. Over time, sunken ships can become entire ecosystems as the corals grow, providing shelter and food for other animals. More specifically, readers will learn about silver bellied yellow jack, long spine squirrelfish, plankton, rainbow parrot fish, loggerhead sea turtles and more.

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Image copyright Adèle Leyris, 2021, text copyright Aimée M. Bissonette, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Artificial reefs have been around for ages. “In the 1830’s, ocean fishermen in South Carolina constructed artificial reefs out of logs.” Reefs can be constructed from many different materials, from wooden plants to scrap metal, old tanks to sunken ships. “Whether a subway car or oil rig, army tank or shipwreck, artificial reefs do many jobs.” Around the world, there are many reefs that function as both art installations and tourist attractions for deep-sea divers.

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Image copyright Adèle Leyris, 2021, text copyright Aimée M. Bissonette, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

The book also discusses how human-caused climate change, pollution from a wide range of contaminates, and the burning of carbon dioxide-producing fuels has caused changes to our oceans that have harmed coral and the other marine life that relies on them. Readers also learn how artificial reefs are beneficial to the ocean habitat. The story reveals: “Artificial reefs help ease the human activity at natural reefs by offering other locations for research, fishing, and diving. Artificial reefs can give natural reefs time to heal, which helps our ocean stay healthy.”

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Image copyright Adèle Leyris, 2021, text copyright Aimée M. Bissonette, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Aimée M. Bissonette follows the story with a page of further information on “Remarkable Resourceful Artificial Reefs,” specifically discussing the experimentation done with artificial reefs and the different creative types that exist. The storyline is interspersed with text in smaller print explaining terms such as ecosystems, scuttling, coral polyps, moray eels, and more for extra-curious readers. Bissonette’s writing is straightforward, and neatly compacts complex terms into simple explanations. The author explains climate change, CO2, and coral bleaching in comprehendible terms to teach young audiences to care about these pressing issues.

Adèle Leyris’s mesmerizing illustrations immerse readers in a deep-sea ecosystem with flashy colored fish, detailed coral, and water-colored blues. The scenes feel authentically underwater, exciting, and full of enticements for the audience to take an extra-long look. The scuba divers are depicted in darker shadows, with spots of light that radiate from the page. One page stands on its own with no text: a murky underwater subway car inhabited by a school of fish, with colorful corals wrapped around the pole. The beautiful illustrations will get readers inspired to learn more about reefs, marine life, and how they can help protect them.

Visually striking and loaded with information that will spur kids to learn more about both artificial and natural coral reefs as well as the sea creatures that rely on them, Shipwreck Reefs is a must for any budding naturalist, classroom science collection, or public library.

Ages 5 – 9 

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807512876

Discover more about Aimée M. Bissonette and her books on her website.

To learn more about Adèle Leyris, her books, and her art, visit her website.

World Habitat Day and National Ship in a Bottle Day Activities

 

Exploring the Coral Reef Video

 

Watch this educational video to see some real-life coral reef ecosystems! 

Scout Life Ship in a Bottle Craft

Image courtesy of Scout Life (scoutlife.com)

Make Your Own Ship in a Bottle

 

To make your own ship (or artificial reef!) in a bottle, visit Scout Life for detailed instructions.

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You can find Shipwreck Reefs at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 20 – It’s World Beach Month

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About the Holiday

This month we celebrate beaches and all of the beauty and recreation they offer. Whether you’re a beachcomber or a swimmer, a sandcastle builder or a sunbather, the beach provides endless ways to enjoy the environment. This month also raises awareness of the types of pollution that mar and endanger the beach as well as the ocean and all of its varied sea life. The world’s coastal areas are irreplaceable habitats and offer crucial resources. Learn what you can do to help our beaches and oceans remain healthy by visiting the Ocean Conservancy website. You can discover more ways to enjoy World Beach Month here.

Constellation of the Deep

By Benjamin Flouw

 

Fox and his cousin, Wolf, spend summer mornings walking along the coast. One day as Fox explores the unusual plants along the path, a seagull lands on a nearby boulder and asks if they have ever heard of the constellation of the deep. The Seagull goes on to tell them that “‘it’s an amazing plant: it grows on the bottom of the ocean, but no one knows exactly where.’” Then he adds that he’s “‘heard that it glows in the dark.’”

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Copyright Benjamin Flouw, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Hearing this, Fox immediately determines to find the constellation of the deep. Wolf has all the diving equipment he’ll need. Outfitted with a wet suit, snorkel, mask, scuba tank, camera, and all the other equipment, Fox and Wolf return to the ocean. While Fox gets ready and dives into the sea, Wolf discovers a crabs, barnacles, periwinkles, scallops, sea anemones, and even a sea star living among the rocks along the shore.

Fox swims above an underwater meadow of posidonia, which he knows “are flowering plants, but they don’t glow in the dark. He leaves the scorpion fish, conger eels, and damselfish behind and dives more deeply. Here, Fox discovers a forest of algae. He recognizes the tall, slender leaves of macrocystis, the fan-shaped leaves of eisenia, the feather-shaped alaria, and many more. While exploring, Fox meets Otter, who’s hunting for sea urchins. Fox tells Otter about his quest, and Otter tells him about “‘a place full of strange plants’” that he encountered just the other day.

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Copyright Benjamin Flouw, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Exiting the forest, Fox finds “rocks covered with strange, multicolored sculptures. These aren’t plants, but corals.” Fox is so stunned by their beauty that he gets out his camera and takes some pictures. “He marvels at the different shapes of corals.” He sees “corals that look like brains, trees, tables . . . and curled paper.” Some of the corals are enormous and some are as small as mushrooms.

Still, Fox hasn’t found what he’s looking for. He begins to ask for help. No one has seen the constellation of the deep, but Grouper agrees to help in the search. They glide into the open ocean, where they come upon a mountain jutting up from the ocean floor. Grouper knows of a hole in the mountain. As they approach, Fox sees something glowing inside. He swims closer only to find “a tiny glowworm!”

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Copyright Benjamin Flouw, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Fox wants to take a photograph and reaches for his camera, “but oh no! His camera is gone!” Staring down into the depths of the ocean, Fox spots an unusual shape. He swims down to see what it is. It’s Whale, who has become tangled in a fishing net along with bottles, cans, trash, and even a boot. What else is snagged in the net but Fox’s camera! Whale gives Fox a ride back to the surface. Wolf waves at his friend riding on top of Whale’s back.

Even though Fox hasn’t found the glowing plant, “he has made some wonderful memories.” Back home, he hands his cousin his camera to show him his pictures. Wolf is particularly taken with one that is very beautiful. “‘Look at this one,’” he says to Fox. Fox can’t believe it. His camera had captured a picture of the constellation of the deep when it fell to the ocean floor. Happy, Fox relaxes with a glass of mushroom juice, knowing that the photo of the constellation of the deep will always remind him of “the fabulous beauty of the underwater world.”

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Copyright Benjamin Flouw, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

In his follow up to The Golden Glow, in which plant-loving Fox and readers travel to the top of a mountain to discover a fascinating rare plant and a surprising decision, Benjamin Flouw plumbs the depths of the ocean to introduce kids to the wonders found there. Just as the sea itself, Flouw’s charming and straightforward storytelling is full of mystery and discovery. As Fox swims deeper and deeper through schools of fish, meadows and forests of sea plants, past coral reefs, and finally to an underwater mountain, readers learn about specific sea life found at each level. Interspersed with the story are several glossary-type pages with illustrations and names of scuba diving gear, tidal pool sea creatures, algae, and corals. Fox’s miraculous recovery of his camera and equally astonishing discovery among his photographs is the type of magical happenstance kids love best. Flouw’s understated environmental message is eloquent and effective.

Just as in The Golden Glow, Flouw’s stylized and textured illustrations, rendered in fresh and soothing tones, will get readers excited about discovering more about the environment. Here, the sea beckons with its colorful and varied creatures and plants. Two-page spreads of the algae forest and coral-encrusted rocks are stunning and the image of Whale wrapped in netting offer educators and kids a jumping off place to further research.

Mesmerizing, educational, and conveying a compelling message, Constellation of the Deep is sure to be a favorite. The book is highly recommended for all home, classroom, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0735268968

You can find a Constellation of the Deep Activity Kit from Tundra Books here.

Discover more about Benjamin Flouw, his books, and his art on his website.

World Beach Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kinetic-sand-craft

Kinetic Sand

 

You don’t have to live near the beach to enjoy playing in the sand! With this easy recipe you can create your own kinetic sand to form or let run through your fingers. It makes a great anti-stress reliever too!

Supplies

  • 1 cup sand
  • ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon dish soap
  • Water as needed – about ¾ cup
  • Bin or bowl for mixing dry ingredients
  • Bowl for mixing dish soap and water

Directions

  1. In the bin combine the sand and cornstarch and mix well
  2. In the bowl combine the dish soap and water until the water is bubbly
  3. Slowly add the water mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing and adding water little-by-little until the desired consistency is reached. The grain of the sand will determine how much water is needed.
  4. The sand can be formed with cookie cutters, molds, hands, etc. and is strong enough to stack. Or just let it drip and ooze through your fingers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-constellation-of-the-deep-cover

You can find Constellation of the Deep at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 22 – National Summer Leisure Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-down-under-the-pier-cover

About the Holiday

Ah, summer! Just the word makes you think of leisurely pursuits – wild rides at an amusement park, toasting marshmallows over a campfire, taking in the exhibits at a science, history, or art museum, hiking a mountain trail, or splashing in the surf during a long beach day. No matter what makes a summer day relaxing and fun for you and your kids, why not take today off and enjoy it! 

Down Under the Pier

Written by Nell Cross Beckerman | Illustrated by Rachell Sumpter

A group of kids are having fun on the pier. They ride the Ferris wheel and the roller coaster and “gobble clouds of cotton candy” as they walk in the sunshine. On the carousel they vie for the one goat to sit on. “Up on the pier,” they tell readers, “we feed the machines, roll Skee-Balls, whack moles, and trade our tickets for toys.” When their money runs out, “is the fun all done?” Not at all. For these kids, it’s just begun.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-down-under-the-pier-downstairs

Image copyright Rachell Sumpter, 2020, text copyright Nell Cross Beckerman, 2020. Courtesy of Cameron Books.

They pad downstairs and kick off their flip-flops. “Down under the pier, it’s dark and cool. We inhale sea spray and squish slimy sand through toes.” They listen to the waves crash and when the water recedes, they “find creatures clinging. Mussels, barnacles, sea stars, and anemones festoon a forest of pilings.” Gently they touch these creatures, let crabs tickle their palms.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-down-under-the-pier-seaweed

Image copyright Rachell Sumpter, 2020, text copyright Nell Cross Beckerman, 2020. Courtesy of Cameron Books.

“Sanderlings scamper, their stick legs a blur” as they lead the children in a race down the beach. Here they find long strands of kelp, strong enough for a game of tug-of-war, wild enough to make a seaweed monster costume. Down under the pier they “collect seashell souvenirs” and watch the changing rainbow colors of the setting sun in the quiet twilight away from the blinking lights, clanging bells, and ringing voices on the pier. “Fun is free,” they know, “and the world is ours.”

Through an Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, readers learn that a portion of the proceeds from Under the Pier are donated to Heal the Bay Aquarium, an educational nonprofit located under the Santa Monica Pier, where visitors can see and touch one hundred local sea creatures. An illustrated guide to seven sea creatures found in an intertidal community follows the story.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-down-under-the-pier-shells

Image copyright Rachell Sumpter, 2020, text copyright Nell Cross Beckerman, 2020. Courtesy of Cameron Books.

Lyrical, entrancing, and full of the wonder of childhood, Nell Cross Beckerman’s story will transport readers to a languid summer day where a group of friends spend the afternoon reveling in the rides, games, and treats of the pier and then continue their fun under the pier, where nature provides as many delights as the carnival above. Through her detailed and evocative language, readers can hear the thrill of the crowds, taste the cotton candy, and run with the kids to be the first to claim the goat on the carousel.

But it is when the kids “slip down the stairs” to the sand below that Beckerman’s descriptions truly shine with the deep and lasting impressions of new discovery. The children’s mindful awe of the sea creatures they find when the tide goes out and their creative games played out with relished spontaneity reflect this one trip to the beach but also all moments of free play that this group of friends—and readers—will experience and remember as they grow up.

Rachell Sumpter’s glorious artwork blends realism and that feeling of magic that expands a child’s world. Her gorgeous soft pinks, yellows, greens, and blues, embroidered with lacy white accents, swirl with the kids on the carousel and beckon them downstairs. Here, with the page turn, the colors burst into vibrancy as the sea tickles their toes and sea creatures climb the pilings and blanket the rocks and sand. Frothy waves and pearled outlines create a dazzling backdrop to the children’s fun. As they wrap themselves in nature-made costumes and art, the fiery sun sets on a perfect day.

A mesmerizing escapade children will want to join in on, Down Under the Pier is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections. The book would pair well with lessons on marine science and United States geography, giving it cross-curricular appeal.

Ages 4 – 8

Cameron Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1944903862

Discover more about Nell Cross Beckerman and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rachell Sumpter, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Summer Leisure Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kinetic-sand-craft

Kinetic Sand

Sand is so much fun to play with at the beach that you just wish you could bring it home. Now you can! With this easy recipe you can create your own kinetic sand to form or let run through your fingers. It makes a great anti-stress reliever too!

Supplies

  • 1 cup sand
  • ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon dish soap
  • Water as needed – about ¾ cup
  • Bin or bowl for mixing dry ingredients
  • Bowl for mixing dish soap and water

Directions

  1. In the bin combine the sand and cornstarch and mix well
  2. In the bowl combine the dish soap and water until the water is bubbly
  3. Slowly add the water mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing and adding water little-by-little until the desired consistency is reached. The grain of the sand will determine how much water is needed.
  4. The sand can be formed with cookie cutters, molds, hands, etc. and is strong enough to stack. Or just let it drip and ooze through your fingers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-down-under-the-pier-cover

You can find Under the Pier at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 30 – National Oceans Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-big-beach-cleanup-cover

About the Holiday

During National Oceans Month, we celebrate the wondrous diversity of sea life. A majority of the earth’s surface is covered in water and yet we know only a fraction of what the oceans have to show us. With new technology scientists are diving deeper and deeper and discovering some of the most unique creatures in the world. The holiday also gives us an opportunity to pledge our help to preserving the fragile ecosystems that exist in and near the world’s oceans from climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction. To join in on this month’s holiday, visit a beach or aquarium, learn more about the animals and resources of the sea, and consider donating to or volunteering with an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. To learn more about the world’s oceans, including information on ocean health, life, science, and trivia; find education resources, podcasts, videos, and more, visit the National Ocean Service website.

The Big Beach Cleanup

Written by Charlotte Offsay | Illustrated by Katie Rewse

 

At the end of the summer, the Crystal Beach Sandcastle Competition would be held and Cora planned on being crowned the champion. She had all summer to practice and she had visions of castles she could build – from towering ones to funny ones to “ones that made you want to pack up your bags and move on in.” But when she got to the beach to begin practicing, she discovered a sign that said the sandcastle competition had been postponed because the beach was so filled with trash. In fact, everywhere Cora dug she unearthed more and more trash.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-big-beach-cleanup-fliers

Image copyright Katie Rewse, 2021, text copyright Charlotte Offsay, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Cora asked Mama if she could fix it. “‘I wish I could,'” Mama answered. “‘I don’t have enough hands.'” Cora wondered if their four hands together could do the job. Mama took gloves from her truck and she and Cora began filling bags with trash. Cora wondered where all the trash came from and Mama explained that some of it could come from trash dropped in cities or towns that makes its way to the ocean or the beach through a drain. Before Cora and Mama could pick up much more, it started raining. Four hands just weren’t enough, thought Cora.

The next day Cora asked her grandfather to join them in cleaning up the beach, but when they got there Cora felt discouraged. The sand looked just as bad as it had the day before. After they’d worked a while, Grandpa suggested taking a “sandcastle break.” Nearby, Cora was upset to see a seagull eating a food wrapper. Six hands weren’t nearly enough, either. Then she looked at the posters on the beach bulletin board and had an idea.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-big-beach-cleanup-twelve-hands

Image copyright Katie Rewse, 2021, text copyright Charlotte Offsay, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Cora drew her own posters, reading “Chrystal Beach needs your HANDS” and “BIG BEACH CLEANUP.” She and her mother posted the signs around town. Outside the ice-cream shop, Cora tried to hand out her fliers but everyone just walked past without taking one. Everyone seemed to busy to come to get involved. But Mama told Cora that there are many other ways people could help, “‘like not littering, or saying no to things we use only once, like straws, so that less trash ends up in the ocean.'”

Cora understood, but she kept asking friends, neighbors, and others. Little-by-little, there were eight hands, then ten, and twelve. More people caught on and came out to the beach to pick up litter. Cora got so many hands that the sandcastle contest was reinstated “thanks to local activists.” On the day of the contest, families came out and built all kinds of creative castles. Cora wasn’t crowned champion, but “her heart swelled with pride” at what she had accomplished. And that was just the beginning….

An Author’s Note outlining steps everyone can take to reduce trash and prevent it from littering the oceans and beaches as well as a list of facts about ocean pollution follow the story.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-big-beach-cleanup-contest

Image copyright Katie Rewse, 2021, text copyright Charlotte Offsay, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Through her earnest and activist protagonist, Cora, Charlotte Offsay gives a voice to those children who want to make a difference in their communities. While Offsay touches on how trash makes its way to oceans and beaches, the real appeal of the story is in her realistic, hands-on ideas that can empower kids to find activities for cleaning up their neighborhood or local beach, park, woodland, or other public space. Her straightforward and accessible storytelling reflects the questions children have about today’s issues and their enthusiasm to help solve problems as well as the disappointments that sometimes come with trying to solicit the involvement of others. Offsay’s well-paced narrative show kids that change can be or seem to be slow, but that sticking with any effort pays benefits.

Katie Rewse’s vibrant illustrations will keep children riveted to the pages as they watch Cora dig up more and more trash from an already well-littered beach. Images of Cora making and hanging posters will inspire kids to try similar outreach in their own communities. Page spreads depicting clean-up efforts realistically portray the types of trash found on beaches and other recreation areas. For children who may be unsure if one pair of hands can really make a difference, Rewse’s illustrations of Cora and Mama working together at the beginning of the story show the positive impact of just one or two people, while later in the story, as more and more people join in, they will see the transformative power that a group effort can make. Kids will love being invited to the sandcastle competition to see all the entrants as well as the winning sculptures.

Inspiring, empowering, and offering realistic ideas and expectations for budding environmentalists, The Big Beach Cleanup is sure to spark awareness and action for children at home and at school. The book would make an impactful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807508015

Discover more about Charlotte Offsay and her books on her website.

To learn more about Katie Rewse, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Oceans Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kinetic-sand-craft

Kinetic Sand

 

Sand is so much fun to play with at the beach that you just wish you could bring it home. Now you can! With this easy recipe you can create your own kinetic sand to form or let run through your fingers. It makes a great anti-stress reliever too!

Supplies

  • 1 cup sand
  • ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon dish soap
  • Water as needed – about ¾ cup
  • Bin or bowl for mixing dry ingredients
  • Bowl for mixing dish soap and water

Directions

  1. In the bin combine the sand and cornstarch and mix well
  2. In the bowl combine the dish soap and water until the water is bubbly
  3. Slowly add the water mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing and adding water little-by-little until the desired consistency is reached. The grain of the sand will determine how much water is needed.
  4. The sand can be formed with cookie cutters, molds, hands, etc. and is strong enough to stack. Or just let it drip and ooze through your fingers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-big-beach-cleanup-cover

You can find The Big Beach Cleanup at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 8 – World Oceans Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ocean-soup-cover

About the Holiday

Since 1992, The United Nations has sponsored World Oceans Day on this date to raise awareness of the importance of the Earth’s seas. Institutions, science centers, schools, research centers, businesses, governments, and communities around the world take part in special events, webinars, meetings, a photography contest, and other programs. This year’s theme is “The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods” and sheds “light on the wonder of the ocean and how it is our lifesource, supporting humanity and every other organism on earth.” This year’s virtual program begins at 10:00 a.m. and features a line up of thought-leaders, celebrities, community activists, entrepreneurs, and industry experts. The day ends with a concert given by musical artists from around the world. For more information on World Oceans Day, visit the UN World Oceans Day website. For educational resources, click here. To see the schedule of events, click here.

Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea

Written by Meeg Pincus | Illustrated by Lucy Semple

 

“From afar the vast ocean appears pure and clean. / How if sparkles and shimmers—a beautiful scene.” But what will you find if you look at just a small portion of the ocean—even a tiny drop—up close? Under a microscope, “the sea looks more like…soup” with “ingredients” that have been simmering for decades. And what’s in this soup? Many “chefs” have created it with Styrofoam cups and their lids; single-use bottles, bags, and straws; microbead soaps, synthetic materials, and balloons.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ocean-soup-microscope

Image copyright Lucy Semple, 2021, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

“The real problem is plastic; it’s in all that stuff. Whether hard or elastic, that plastic is tough!” Dumps around the world are overflowing with plastic, and much of it ends up in the ocean “churning round the five gyres— / the huge saltwater whirlpools / where breakdown transpires.” As the plastic churns under the sun, it turns into “specks” that can’t be removed. This plastic soup is “…gulped by the dolphins, the whales, and the seals, / and it’s slurped by the fish, / and the plankton and eels.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ocean-soup-beach

Image copyright Lucy Semple, 2021, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

This confetti of plastic is found above the water in icebergs and deep on the ocean floor. If it’s in the fish that we eat, “is it in you and me” too? To clean up the oceans, we need new chefs and a new recipe for ending the manufacturing of plastic, practicing new habits with sustainable, reusable materials, and refusing products packaged in plastic. “Ocean soup may have simmered before we were here, / but the call for us all to pitch in rings out clear.”

Extensive backmatter includes an author’s note; a discussion about the invention of plastics and the astounding amount of “‘plastic smog'” that is in the ocean, as well as a description of how gyres break down plastic into tiny particles. Readers also learn what eight types of plastic are the worst polluters and are given ten steps for reducing daily plastic use. 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ocean-soup-gyres

Image copyright Lucy Semple, 2021, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Meeg Pincus’s eye-opening comparison between the ocean and a pot of soup gives young readers crucial information about the plight of our oceans that is easy to understand and visualize. Her entreaty to look closely at what lies beneath the shimmering blue surface of the water grabs readers’ attention, and her short history of how and when plastics came on the scene provides context and perspective. The plastics Pincus mentions show the magnitude of the problem, and kids will be familiar with most if not all of these products. Pincus’s unstinting rhyming verses present the science of how plastic is shredded by the sea, where it ends up, and how it is ingested by ocean creatures in a way that is sure to spur readers to action. Her examples of ways we can reduce our plastic use within the story and in the backmatter empowers readers of all ages to make changes to protect the Earth’s oceans now and for future generations.

Lucy Semple’s bold illustrations show kids exactly how pervasive the kinds of containers, toys, wrappers, and other plastic products that are polluting our oceans really are and how blithely we use them. Through successive panels she demonstrates how plastic bags, bottles, straws, and cups break apart due to sun and water currents, and a double-spread map orients kids to where the five gyres are found. Images of sea creatures gulping down the tiny shards of plastic are effective and will resonate with children, as will the final pages where readers will find reinforcement for new habits of using and promoting recycled and reusable products.

An excellent overview of and introduction to the crisis of plastics in the world’s oceans, Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea will spark in readers a desire to embrace more sustainable products, adopt better recycling habits, and take action to reduce plastics use. The book would be an impactful way to begin science, environment, history, and other cross-curricular lessons as well as a jumping off place for more extensive research in classrooms and for homeschoolers. Ocean Soup is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9 

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534111189

Discover more about Meeg Pincus and her books on her website.

You can connect with Lucy Semple on Instagram and Twitter.

World Oceans Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Turtle-Swimming-coloring-page

Sea Creatures Coloring Pages

 

Grab your crayons and enjoy these printable coloring pages of favorite sea creatures!

Fish | Octopus | Seahorse | Turtle

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ocean-soup-cover

You can find Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review