life in the ocean

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola

This picture book biography of biologist and oceanographer Sylvia Earle pays homage not only to her life’s work but to the incredible ecosystem of the oceans as well.  Sylvia was a biologist even as a child, sitting by the pond at their rural home in New Jersey and observing.  When Sylvia was 12, her family moved to Florida where their home was right near the Gulf of Mexico.  Sylvia started going to swims with her goggles on and watching these new creatures so different from the pond life in New Jersey.  As Sylvia grew older she ventured deeper and deeper into the ocean, meeting whales, spending 2 weeks in a deep-sea station, and walking the ocean floor in a Jim suit.  Sylvia Earle through her life and actions asks us to venture into the ocean too, spend time underwater, and explore beyond the 5% of the ocean humans have so far discovered.

Nivola’s text in this picture book can seem dense at first glance, but it is necessary to paint the picture of this ground-breaking (or ocean-breaking) woman.  The text reads aloud beautifully, flowing forward as it gives the small details that build to a life’s work.  It is a life spent outdoors, often alone, learning.  If you are looking for a picture book to inspire more exploration outside, this is definitely one. 

The illustrations in the book have a fine line to them, the pages filled with different blue hues as the water changes depth.  The ballet moves of the whales, the dazzle of bioluminescent creatures, and the colorful coral reefs all add to the range of the pictures.  Plenty of blue space is given to just water, allowing us to hold our collective breaths with hers and visit the depths too.

A brilliant picture book biography, this book is a winning nonfiction title for elementary students.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

For more information on Sylvia Earle, you can watch her TEDPrize winning talk or visit Mission Blue, a gorgeous website for the Sylvia Earle Alliance.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus Giroux.