Oceans and Children's Literature

Featured Subject: Oceans

Oceans cover art

The ocean is vast and so are the numbers of books that be linked to a theme on the ocean making it too big for one newsletter. Let's restrict ourselves to a theme for K-3 for this article, leaving an upper grade theme on the ocean for some later date.

As with almost anything involving natural science, I reach first for a Seymour Simon book. His photographic essay Oceans (Morrow, 1990; ISBN: 0688094546. Order Info.) is a mind-bending combination of exquisite photographs, clear diagrams and charts, statistics, and a text full of exuberance and wonder. Leave it out on the table where the kids can get at it and they'll soon be wanting to know more. So, follow that book with The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen (Scholastic Trade, 1992 ISBN 0590414305. Order Info.). Ms Frizzle and her class will give them lots of information and open doors to further exploration.

Cover Art

The Smithsonian has put out a wonderful book on the ocean which is great for browsing with the younger students, looking at photos. Directed to adults it can also be used right up through high school. Smithsonian Ocean: Our Water, Our World by Deborah Cramer (Smithsonian, 2008. ISBN 9780061343834. Order Info.)

Although tides and waves and the ocean floor are interesting, it's the life in and around the ocean that fascinates most of us. Again it's Simon to the rescue. His Sharks (HarperCollins, 1996 ISBN 0064461874. Order Info.) and Whales (HarperCollins, 1992 ISBN 0064460959. Order Info.) will have the kids intrigued and comparing discoveries in no time. Add Mary Cerulio's only slightly more difficult Octopus: Phantom of the Sea (Cobblehill, 1997 ISBN 0525651993. Order Info.) and you've got the three sea creatures that most delight and amaze young learners. Even kids who can't read the text of any of those books can gain lots of information by carefully perusing those photographs.

They need structure in which to record their information so it's time to get graphic. Food chains are interesting in any eco-system and the food chains in the ocean are many. Have the kids start making large images of single sea animals on cardboard circles or pizza boards. Place their creatures on the bulletin board and have kids find out what each one eats. If the prey is already on the board, connect it by making an arrow from predator to prey. If it isn't there, draw it and then connect. Get them searching for different creatures to place on the predator/prey board. Soon there should be extensive webs. You may want to place various stages in the life of those same creatures leading to a discussion and display of life cycles and, because some creatures are prey at various stages of their lives and predators at other, things can get nicely complicated.

After they've looked at Norbert Wu's Fish Faces (Owlet, 1997 ISBN 0805053476. Order Info.) they may be ready for art. Crayon resists make nice ocean artwork. Get the kids to bear down hard with wax based crayons to make the images of various sea creatures and then paint over them with blue watercolor. Mobiles and fingerpaint also lend themselves to ocean creations.

Bring on the music stretching all the way from "Down by the Sea" to Debussy's "La Mer". Let kids move, write, read and create art while the music plays.

Back to the books for the stories about the ocean. Jan Andrews' Very Last First Time with illustrations by Ian Wallace (Atheneum, 1985 ISBN 0689503881. Order Info.) involves an Inuit rite of passage as a little girl walks under the ice when the tide is out.

Diane Hofmeyr's Do the Whales Still Sing? (Dial, 1995 ISBN 0803717407. Out of Print.) shows a reformed whale hunter. He loved hunting them down in the great whaling ships until he heard them sing one day. You can find recordings of whale songs or visit http://whale.wheelock.edu/whalenet-stuff/sounds/ to hear their sounds and those of other ocean creatures. Kids who are intrigued can go on to The Whales Song by Dyan Sheldon and Gary Blythe (Dial, 1991 ISBN 0803709722. Order Info.) in which a little girl hears from her grandmother of a time when she used to hear the whales sing.

Frances Ward Weller and Robert J. Blake's Riptide (Putnam, 1990 ISBN 0698113861. Order Info) deals with the dangers of the sea. It's a good dog story too as a pesky dog on the beach becomes a hero.

Sea otters are in real danger now from orcas, of all things, so take a look at Swim the Silver Sea, Joshie Otter by Nancy White Carlstrom and Ken Kuroi (Putnam, 1993 ISBN 0698114477. Order Info.) in which a young sea otter becomes separated from its mother and Orcas Around Me by Debra Page and Leslie W. Bowman (Whitman, 1997 ISBN 0807561371. Order Info.). In the latter book we get to know a bit about orcas and salmon, as well. Finish it off with Sea Otter Inlet (Fitzhenry & Whiteside ISBN 1550410806.), a nonfiction book in which a whole ecosystem is destroyed because of over hunting.


New Books since this article was written

cover art Wave by Suzy Lee. (2008, Chronicle. ISBN 9780811859240. Order Info.) Picture Book. 34 pages. Gr PreK-1.
A young girl plays at the water's edge. With each wave she steps away or growls at it or signals it to stop or splashes in it until, while sticking her tongue out at one, the wave rises up and crashes down upon her leaving her drenched but surrounded by the seashells the wave has washed up. A quiet wordless gem of a book. Read More.

cover art May by Kathryn Lasky. (2011, Scholastic. ISBN 9780439783118. Order Info.) Novel. 336 pages. Gr 7-9.
This is one volume in the "Daughters of the Sea" series. It's 1898 and May lives on an island off the coast of Maine where she and her family tend the lighthouse. She has been forbidden to swim but yearns desperately to swim in the sea. When she discovers that she is a mermaid her yearnings make sense to her, but what would it mean to others in the village or to her new romance if her secret were known?


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