The Octopus Gets Due Respect

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.)

over in the ocean - cover

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:

over in the ocean in a coral reef

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.

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Attack of the Septapus -or- Why are you doing this to my kid?


Lately, my students and I have been studying not only the effectiveness of biological illustrations, but also the efficacy of their own illustrations to personally enhance the knowledge of abstract concepts.  As well, I have been engaged in some short but interesting discussions with Dr. Mishra at MSU concerning the validity of visualizations.  None of these interesting interactions, however, hold a candle to those between my eldest daughter and I.  Big surprise, huh?

dumb numbers book

She has shelves upon shelves of amazing books that have come from her mom and I, gifts from others, or direct picks from Delaney herself.  One of these books is the subject of this post.  I had noticed the scientific inaccuracies on “number seven” before today.  Yet-  I hadn’t really looked seriously at what was going on because I generally hate this book, and usually try to get mommy to read this one when it comes up.  Yes, this one was a gift.  No biology instructor would ever purposefully unleash this one upon their progeny.

Details?  Who cares?

I understand where you are coming from if you tell me the content details that are so fouled up here aren’t important at age two.  I get that.  However, this kid can tell the difference between a barracuda and a salmon in one book, and then be able to transfer what a barracuda looks like and “does” when seeing a photograph of mine flash across my laptop’s screen saver:


I don’t know.  As I’ve said before, I’m no early childhood expert.  My learning about EC education occurs as we experience it through our lovely daughters.  However, I have to at least give myself props for keen observation skills and an active framework for constructivist learning (as well as other approaches).

However, page seven of this book is just… well…  dumb.  Page seven features an octopus as a painter with tubes of paint in all tentacles.  Not only is this the representative creature for the number seven, it has seven tentacles.  Yes-  count them.  Seven tentacles.  One tube of paint in each.  Not to menton the fact that the page goes on to suggest that seven rainbow paints can “…make a world of make-believe or Never Never Land.”  Wow.  Perhaps this is a feeler to draw kids in to the Never Land Ranch? If so, sorry Mike, my girlie’s not remotely interested.

page seven in a dumb book

All silliness aside…  are you kidding me?  Page seven?  The octopus sits on page seven in this book?  I mean, this creature isn’t named “tentacle-critter.”  It is named “OCTO-pus” as in:  eight.  Eight of something-  you don’t even need to know what.  But ask someone before you put the brush into the paint can next time.  Seriously.  Or wait-  perhaps the illustrator simply applied color to the author’s words?  Regardless, there you have it in the end, a seven-tentacled beast staring gleefully back at you.  Am I saying that a children’s author needs to hold a degree in biology?  Not remotely.  Though I would argue that if you wish to publish, take note of basic prefixes.

What I thought a few weeks ago was a glaring error, just tonight became a full-on dumbfest.  A silly soiree.  When skipping to page ten, we see ten terrific sea turtles.  Actually, according to the book, we see “ten tiny tortoises swimming in the sea.”  Yeah-  no.  No we don’t.  I am willing to bet no one has seen tortoises swimming in the sea.  Considering the general common language surrounding the taxonomic order Chelonia is that all are turtles.  Those spending their lives near water (and especially those spending it in water) are always referred to as turtles.  Only those living the most terrestrial of lives get to be called tortoises.  Even those in the middle, who spend some of their lives near water are often referred to as terrapins…  but never tortoises.  A book depicting “tortoises” doing loop-de-loops in the sea, is not for me.

page ten of a dumb book.

What is this-  a conspiracy?

I have no author to blame here.  Honestly, I can’t.  This book hasn’t an author listed, an illustrator credited, etc.  The front and back covers depict a series of books called “Animal Crackers” to which this particular volume belongs, although there is no other information to be found.  I would chalk this up to the nature of a children’s book, though all of our others seemingly have a plethora of documentation and credits.  I do suspect that it makes some sick sense to not want any sort of “credit” for this remarkable work to be placed upon your resume.  The only thing I can find on the back cover is “Copyright 2005 Edicart – Printed in China for Books Are Fun Ltd., 1680 Highway 1 North, Fairfield, Iowa.”

My wife is from Iowa.  Smart people hail from Iowa.  So tell me readers…  why am I crazy here?  Why is this really no big deal at all?  Why is it not embarrasingly funny and sad all in one icky-literacy-burrito?

The Power of Visualization?

Bit ‘o setup

I think the TPACK framework is one of the most influential things I have learned about/grappled with this past year.  As an instructional coach in the middle of an educational technology implementation, this is one piece I have relied on heavily for personal focus and planning.

One thing I worry about with concepts of this depth (that possess a graphic illustration so perfectly simple) is that the real idea gets misinterpreted by any old joe who does a copy/paste of the Venn diagram from a Google image search.  You’ll see what I mean in the diagram below.  I’m not saying the diagram is in any way off the mark.  What I am saying is that the visualization is so elegantly simple that I think for some it might not at first glance convey the sophistication of the concepts presented.  Would I change it?  Not one bit.  I think it is a really good example of distilled reality.  Judge for yourself:

TPACK diagram

When it works

However, this post isn’t just another nod toward the synthesis of visualization and concept present in the TPACK framework (formerly TPCK).  It is also about a brief and recent e-mail exchange between one of the originators of TPACK and I.  Punya Mishra, professor of educational technology at the College of Education at Michigan State University, has been a fixture in my blogroll since I started nashworld.  In my opinion, the TPACK framework is one of the few things in educational technology that you can truly hang your hat on.  Tools will come and go, popular methods of instruction will as well…  and content?  Content changes in the blink of an eye in 2009.  However, to me this framework is core to what we do (or should be doing) in education.  And with a mouthful like “technological pedagogical content knowledge,” it really does help to have a visual representation that nails it cold like this one does.

Inspiring connections

I honestly don’t remember exactly how I first found Punya’s blog, but I instantly connected to the eclectic nature of it.  Particularly, the fact that he is not only deep into edtech, but is also a huge fan of all things regarding the visualization of information.  I too am fond of creative and innovative ways of visualizing data of all types.  My mixed life as a generalist instructional coach (who also teaches biology and marine biology) is one that often blends strategies for learning data with methods of collecting and interpreting it.

From reading his brief but frequent posts sharing precious nuggets of visualization, I now think of his blog whenever I find one of interest that is new to me.  So just a few weeks ago, I sent a different sort of link that included a visualization about visualizations…  and to top that, it was bent and twisted into the familiar form of the “periodic table” of elements.  My knee jerk on this one was not favorable.  However, I thought I’d e-mail it to Punya to get his objective take.  What developed into a small back & forth via e-mail, then developed into a full-blown post confirming not only what I thought he might find, but then quite a bit more.  For a table about visualization methods, this could easily serve as an “anti example” itself.


Visualization risks

Punya makes the case that it works to do this in sort of a humorous way, and provides several examples in his article.  I even have an example of this hanging above the sink in my own classroom.  The Periodic Table of Fruits & Nuts was given to me as a gift back in the days when I taught an Honors-level Botany course to Juniors & Seniors.  We had fun with the poster.  In fact, it is quite pretty and really does display a ton of information.  But I always made sure to point out the massive misconception machine that it was… in taking the shape of the periodic table of elements.  The main point being, the table of elements is the shape it is because of the periodicity of the elements within.  I assure you there is nothing periodic about the latin names of fruits, nor the caloric value of the nuts in my poster.

Everything that deceives may be said to enchant.


untitled error

Upon more closely mining the site for the source of this document, I finally found the original paper by Ralph Lengler & Martin J. Eppler of the Institute of Corporate Communication, University of Lugano, Switzerland.  So, I suppose it makes sense that this does not have roots within the natural science community.  All scientific inaccuracy, and creation of misconception aside, the authors apparently realized a few of the limitations themselves.  The conclusion on page five states that the chart, “…cannot be seen as a close adaptation of the periodic table of chemical elements. It is rather a functional, metaphoric homage to it.”

However, the Plato quote above was lifted from another paper linked to the site, from the same university, entitled: “The Risks of Visualization.”  It seems that this second paper might have some further suggestions for the first, huh?  There are some other interesting non-examples presented in this paper.  Check them out toward the end of you have time.


What is happening?

Are you doing this at all?  If so, how do you address visual literacy in (or out) of your curriculum?  What do you do to help students acquire skills in this area?  What supporting sources do you use?  Do you have a colleague who is doing this really well?  Have them weigh in.  I want my kids to be visually literate.  I think addressing this by the time a student is 18 is important.  I think I personally have a reasonable level of skill in this area.  I try my darndest whenever possible to address visual literacy.  However, this is a far cry from being organized, efficient, and well-equipped to do so.

Other artwork thanks:
*Untitled by Ariel.Chico on Flickr
*Meat Loaf graph?  I wish I could credit this one, but it is too viral for me to decipher the origin.

How might technology provide a scaffold into poetry?

I am such a sucker for anything that even slightly tickles the visual and verbal parts of my brain simultaneously. To start, I love this lesson plan that deals with defining poetry. I would love to take part in a discussion like this… shoot… any discussion like this. I need my fix of a good, solid social science or literature debate. Anyone feel like inviting me in for one?

In fact, a nice little set of lesson plans concerning poetry are found on the site. As you look through, you will see that the self-label of “advanced” might just fit. But I think many of these are more than feasible in our school. We have students at Benton who are more than capable of learning from this.

The main website is called “PicLits.” The tagline for PicLits is “inspired picture writing.” To me, this is an interesting little site that appears to be a weird mashup: part visual literacy, part refrigerator poetry, part… fun. The main site itself, doesn’t come across as allowing much heavy-lifting relating to typical communication arts instruction. However, it isn’t the site, but what you do with it that counts. Right? To me, this site is about greasing the wheels of inspiration. I can almost guarantee that an approach like this would have gone a long way toward allowing me to feel empowered to connect to poetic verse at a younger age. I was too cool for this in high school. In college, I became enthralled. Don’t you ever wonder what would have happened if you had learned something really amazing… but a year or two earlier?

Perhaps I connected to this site because it reminds me of some of the goofy things I used to do with Photoshop years ago. To me, so many of my photos just begged for words. I had fun slapping them onto images from time to time.

Perhaps this is a fun little site that would work (as Michael Gier mentioned in a discussion here) in a CA classroom to enhance a lesson that ends with “time to spare.”

Just trolling through the site a bit, I found an image that stood out to me as interesting. It seemed to beg for a poetic caption. There are two ways in which this text can be added. There is a link to add words to the image via “drag & drop” (the refrigerator poetry way), or via the “freestyle” method, which simply allows you to type onto the image as you wish.

My little sixty-second creation is here:

PicLit from
See the full PicLit at

Click to go to the site and check it out, and hey… feedback is powerful. Throw in a comment. Make me feel like a poet. If I like the experience, perhaps I will be inspired to publish again in perhaps even another way. Get it? If you do get it, then you are already beginning the feel the power of the interactive web. Feels good, doesn’t it?

***Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I had to make just one more before getting on with the four other things I am currently juggling:

PicLit from
See the full PicLit at

Anyone else feel like playing along?

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