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From The CriticsThe Ocean Life series includes eight titles: Crabs, Octopuses, Parrotfish, Sea Anemones, Sea Horses, Sea Stars, Sea Urchins, and Corals. All but the last are reviewed here.
These little books are among the most remarkable publications on marine life for early readers. Each measures roughly 18 × 16 cm (just over 7 × 6 in.), fitting comfortably in the hands of an early elementary school student. Each two-page spread includes a full-size color photograph of the featured marine animal on one side and a short sentence of text (typically 4-10 words long) on the other. The content of the text is introductory, but relevant biological information about the animal of the title gradually builds up a notion of what makes this animal interesting and unusual. In Sea Horses, the focus is on development: First we learn that "Sea horses are fish" and later that "Male sea horses have a pouch. A stunning photograph of sea horses mating is accompanied by "Female sea horses lay eggs in the pouch and next, "Male sea horses carry the eggs in the pouch." In Parrotfish, the focus is on teeth and feeding: Sentences read "Parrotfish have joined teeth," "Parrotfish teeth look like a beak," and "Parrotfish eat algae." (The photograph accompanying the last of these includes a close-up insert of algae.) Later, we learn that parrotfish bite off coral to find algae and that they turn coral into sand. Each thought is carefully and clearly presented, supported by the excellent photographs, and yet is integrated into a coherent story about the animal. The material is aimed at first and second graders.
The text and the photographs are well coordinated: The photographs always support the text in somemanner. In each book, in one or two instances, a word and arrow are superimposed on the photograph to emphasize one feature. For example, when the text says, "Sea anemones have a mouth," the word "mouth" is placed on the close-up photograph of a sea anemone, showing the location of its mouth. This helps a great deal, since locating the parts of marine invertebrates isn't necessarily easy or obvious.
The carefully written text and the overall excellent organization would by themselves make this series of books stand out among similar titles. The photographs, however, propel these books into a category of their own. Each photograph is of truly stunning quality, with accurate color balance, excellent composition, and visually interesting subject matter. The series carries the message that not only do marine animals have fascinating biology, but they are extraordinarily beautiful as well.
Each book is 24 pages long, of which 21 pages have text and photographs. The other 3 pages include a short glossary ("Words to Know"), references to additional readings ("Read More," typically three book titles), a list of Internet sites (typically three sites), and an index/word list. The last page includes the word count (which ranges from 46 to 67) and the early intervention level (ranges from 7 to10). Glossary words are defined in terms of the animal being discussed in the text, which makes them particularly useful. The Internet sites are excellent, but only some are aimed at children. A brief sentence about each of the sites would be useful, to help the reader decide which would be worth examining.
Overall, this series represents a most excellent example of early elementary books on marine animals. I recommend them to every parent, teacher, or librarian with young children interested in the topic. (from the Ocean Life Series.) Highly Recommended, Grades 1-2. REVIEWER: Dr. Judy Diamond (University of Nebraska State Museum)