Saturday, January 5, 2013

Life in the Ocean: the story of oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola

32 p. Frances Foster Books/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux, March, 2012.  9780374380687. (Purchased.)

Sylvia Earle's parents wanted their children to grow up in the country so they bought a farm. Sylvia spent hours and hours in nature observing and exploring. She loved it all and could sit for hours just watching. When she was twelve, the family moved to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico was in her backyard. She learned to snorkel, then skin dive and "lost her heart to the water."

This is not necessarily a picture book for the very young. The text is longish and fairly complicated. I found the writing lovely. Upon second reading, I realized that my favorite phrases were actually quotes from Earle. The illustrations range in size from thumbnails to double-page spreads and the Author's Note is decorated with vignettes - labelled sea life. 

Last year, I tried to update the biography section at my library and found a series about environmentalists. There was a biography of Sylvia Earle included. I am ashamed to admit that I had not known whom she was. Alas, I did not choose to read the biography, but skimmed enough to learn the basics. When I noticed this picture book biography pop up again and again, I recalled my ignorance. Also, since I'm constantly haranging my teacher colleagues that picture book biographies are useful in middle school as a hook, I decided to take my own advice and went in search of said biography as soon as I finished Life in the Ocean. Sigh. It's either misfiled or borrowed with being checked out, my euphemism for stolen. Still, I stand by my words that picture book biographies can pique the imagination and lure unsuspecting students into reading the requisite 100 page biography required for most language arts classes. And, allowing the use of them is a godsend for those struggling readers who can't tackle the longer biographies. (Am stepping off my soap-box now.)

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