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Dive In!: Exploring Our Connection with the Ocean

by Ann Eriksson

Deep Underwater

by Irene Luxbacher

The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs

by Kate Messner; Matthew Forsythe (ill.)

A trio of marine-themed children’s books takes a deep dive into oceanic settings – from a scientific expedition to a practical call to action to a harmonious tale of spiritual wonderment.

The Brilliant Deep, by U.S. writer Kate Messner, is a fascinating picture-book biography of coral reef restoration pioneer Ken Nedimyer. Growing up near the Florida Keys, the young, budding conservationist had more than 30 aquariums in his bedroom. An avid scuba diver, Nedimyer started to notice troubling changes
in the aquatic ecosystem and realized the reefs were dying. Years later, he accidentally discovered a way to propagate and re-harvest coral colonies. His low-tech, hands-on process is downright amazing in its accessibility and ordinariness. With painstaking patience and determination, Nedimyer transplants pieces of coral with a dab of epoxy glue “the size of a Hershey Kiss.” Montreal artist Matthew Forsythe’s fiery red and burnished gold illustrations follow the path of this Jacques Cousteau–like diver, shining a light on the living colours and myriad shapes and sizes of the sea’s biodiverse rainforest. The inquisitive text respects the scientific method, with questions, hypotheses, and observations; but the storyline is not weighed down by technical passages. This affecting story of one man’s efforts sends a persuasive message: “It starts with one.”

A similar, empowering philosophy is found in Dive In!, the latest addition to Orca’s eco-friendly Footprint series. Ann Eriksson, a biologist and writer from B.C., takes a down-to-earth, conversational approach in this non-fiction book. Clearly written chapters explain why we should not take oceans for granted, and lots of relatable and memorable examples are provided:  “Thirsty? … No matter where you get your water, it started out in the ocean”; “Take a deep breath and hold it. … That air you just sucked in is probably phytoplankton breath.” Issues surrounding pollution, overfishing, and rising sea levels are also examined. An optimistic conclusion offers practical choices youth can make to live ocean-friendly lifestyles, whether they reside close to water or in a landlocked locale.    

The pages are enlivened with scrapbook-style colour photographs of the efforts and initiatives of children from around the world, sidebars with “Ocean Facts” trivia, and “My Marine Life” authorial anecdotes. For global citizens in training, Eriksson’s mantra – “Everything is connected to everything else” – is a significant and heartening concept to ponder.

The ocean, in all of its mystic glory, also provides the dramatic setting for venerated Toronto author and illustrator Irene Luxbacher’s dreamy picture book Deep Underwater. Holding a shell to her ear, Sophia is privy to all of the magic and mystery of the sea. The raven-haired girl divines where fish that look like “angels and four-eyed butterflies” live. In calm and soothing passages, this water nymph takes readers on an immersive adventure. Sophia is an enchanting tour guide to the fantastical underwater playground and serenely cajoles, “Will you follow me? I know you will. You are brave.”

Luxbacher’s distinctive and beautiful watercolour, acrylic, and collage illustrations are full of movement and transformation. Wordless double-page spreads showcase a purple-blue expanse, teeming with schools of newspaper-print fish, iridescent jellyfish, and an alert-eyed lobster. The deeper Sophia delves, the more surreal the images become: glowing bubbles that contain images of a strand of DNA, musical notes, and a heart representing some of Earth’s “ancient secrets.”

Sophia’s exploration turns personal when she comes face-to-face with her mermaid twin. Her confidence and self-assurance is unwavering: “Deep down, I never feel alone. I can always see a friend in me.” Instead of fearing the darkness, “an abyss becomes a bottomless pit of possibilities.”

Coming up for air, the child is swept home on a swirling ocean current and is tucked into bed with her mother by her side. There is a lovely tranquility and depth to this ocean story that lies intriguingly below the shimmering surface.