My last post highlighted a train wreck of a children’s book. Readers of the post typically had one of three responses:
1) This is sick, but hilarious. It was easy to get a kick out of something as blatantly incorrect as this book. In fact, my current marine biology students enjoyed it quite a bit. Those riled enough suggested file #13.
2) Don’t sweat it. A minority remarked even though the book has glaring errors, none are worth getting too fired up about. Kids are resilient, and misconceptions learned that young are easily unlearned.
3) What an opportunity! Several also remarked that this book is a valuable potential lesson to hold on to. Keeping the book as a media literacy lesson is the best answer.
What can I do?
Regardless of your take on The Septapus, I have felt the need for a review of a really super piece of children’s literature since publishing that post. I guess I just feel the need for some positivity to balance out the force. In reality, I am not a children’s lit expert. I’m as much of an early childhood expert as a terribly curious father of two youngsters can possibly be, but certainly no more than that. I know my limitations. That said, I think I have one really sweet little piece of art to share with all of you. This is a book that is not only deeply accurate from a scientific perspective, lyrically engaging, and amazingly illustrated… but also seems to be a nearly 180 degree parallel of “Numbers” in so many ways. (Please appreciate the tattered scans here which show the tough love of a toddler’s touch.)
In fact, this was definitely Delaney’s first favorite book. She still loves to have this one read to her. I’m not bad, but her mommy reads this one like a champ. Find a small child. Any child will do. No matter how far you have to look, find a kid and buy this book for them: Over in the Ocean in a Coral Reef. This book was written by Marianne Berkes and illustrated by Jeanette Canyon. I know little of the history of the creation of this book, but it is a masterpiece. Not only is it refreshingly accurate, and written in a fun and lyrical way, it is illustrated so beautifully that it makes me want to go buy clay. Seriously. Take it from a discerning dad who teaches marine biology- this is a fantastic book to read with a toddler.
The book called out to my wife and I from a shelf in the exhibit hall of the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) national convention in St. Louis just before our babe was born. The book came in two forms and we bought both on the spot. One is a thick board book that we figured she could have her way with, and the other is a paperback that contains more information at the end on the creation of the polymer-clay art that adorns each page.
If you do nothing else, do a comparison of the treatment of the octopus on page one of this book, with the “septapus” in question from page seven of the previous review:
When looking at any of the pages here, keep in mind these things… every illustration: clay. Illustrate the riot of color and complexity of a coral reef… in clay? Absolutely. This is a serious work of art in my opinion. The ocean looks like Vincent’s Starry Night, and the lyrics (which correspond to music in the final pages) are quite fun. And to think- this book is a “numbers” book as well. Hard to compare to the previous book. Over in the Ocean truly builds the counting exercise into the structure of the story in a very organic and engaging way.
In Over in the Ocean, parrotfish “grind,” clownfish “dart,” stingrays “stir,” pufferfish “puff,” dophins “jump,” angelfish “graze,” needlefish “skitter,” grunts “grunt,” and seahorses “flutter.” The octopus has eight tentacles. Parrotfish grind coral. Stingrays stir in sandflats. Emperor angelfish look exactly like emperor angelfish. Bluestriped grunts, both mommy and babies look precisely and act exactly like Haemulon sciurus- just ask my marine biology students.
Of course before publishing this post, I wanted to ask explicit permission to include a page from the author herself. In that correspondence, I gained even more insight into the book including her opinion on the Septapus:
“As a former children’s librarian, I can tell you it would never have made it in my library, or my school for that matter (I was also an early childhood educator in NY before moving to Florida).”
Enjoy this book. Enjoy the proud scientific accuracy. Enjoy the gorgeous art adorning each page. But perhaps most importantly, enjoy a book that is an interdisciplinary dive onto a coral reefs for kids.