Ocean!: Waves For All (Stacy McAnulty)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Ocean!: Waves For All, written by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by David Litchfield, fourth in the author’s series of nature-based storybooks.

Personified by a set of eyes, nose, and mouth, the open ocean cheerfully greets readers before guiding them through a casual and congenial crash course in the wonders of the sea. Speaking in adorable surfer vernacular (“Dude”, “stoked”, and “righteous” make appearances, among others), the ocean takes its audience on a journey from the formation of the seas, the different zones and sea life within it, and even some of the modern dangers it faces, like trash islands and global warming. However, we can find that “sweet balance,” the ocean assures us; ocean and man? We’re all in this together.

Lovely. McAnulty’s series of humanized celestial bodies (Sun! And Moon!, both illustrated by Stevie Lewis and Earth!, also illustrated by Litchfield) has a wonderful way of connecting young readers to scientific concepts that may seem to too massive otherwise. The Ocean, with it’s Dudeist vocabulary and serene vibe, is especially charming, made all the more engaging by Litchfield’s incredibly complex and intricate art. Backmatter gives further information, suggestions, and resources on being a friend to the ocean. The length is perfect, and JJ and I really enjoyed this one; it’s got a strong environmental message while also capturing the spellbinding majesty of the sea and the life within it. In other words: totally tubular. Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Jules Vs. The Ocean (Jessie Sima)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Jules Vs. The Ocean by Jessie Sima, a sweet and funny story of a summer’s day.

When Jules hits the beach, she has a clear mission: she wants to build the biggest, most awesome sand castle ever to impress her big sister. She sets to work right away, but as soon as she’s making progress – SPLASH! A wave rolls in to wash her castle away. Her sister promises that this happens to everyone, and encourages her to keep trying. Jules begins again, and again, yet each time the ocean sends a massive wave targeting her efforts. On her third try, it even snatches away her bucket, and she cries out in frustration. Her sister arrives once more to console her, and together they begin work on a masterpiece: the biggest, most fancy, most wonderful castle ever created! And no sooner are they done then – CRASH – the sea destroys their work once more. Yet this time the girls laugh and find joy in the shared experience, running off to tell their mother of their epic battle against the ocean waves.

Delightful. This adorable day-in-the-life tale uses a simple story with a distinctively childlike voice to explore a classic rite of passage and a loving relationship between sisters. The gentle humor – including a hilariously offbeat ending – gives the narrative a light and sunny feeling, perfect for a summer storytime. Sima’s art is colorful, fun, even edging on epic at times, enchanting to the “girl vs. nature” theme. The length is great, and JJ loved it. This is a fun read with a little humor, a little adventure, and a good deal of heart. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm in exchange for an honest review.)

Notch, The Rescued Dolphin (Martina Wing)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Notch, The Rescued Dolphin, written by Martina Wing and illustrated by Jackie Mask, a story inspired by the viral video of Notch’s rescue.

Off the coast of the big island of Hawaii, Notch – a Bottlenose dolphin named for a distinctive scar on his back – swims happily with his pod. Notch is a daredevil, spending his days catching fish and showing off with his best friend Honi. One day, while Notch is chasing a fish for supper, he becomes caught on a fishing hook and helplessly tangled in the attached line. Unable to fully open his mouth or properly use his left flipper, he is terrified. Despite the best efforts of his family and friends, Notch remains trapped in the line, and begins to panic. Yet, with the advice of some notable and rare sea creatures of the Kona Coast, Notch will find that his salvation may lie in the hands of the very creatures who caused his problems: humans.

Based on a video of Notch’s rescue, taken by the author during a SCUBA Manta Ray encounter, this imagining of Notch’s life and what led him to approach human divers for assistance is equally heartwarming and informative. Readers are introduced to notable, real-life creatures that call the Hawaiian Pacific their home, such as a friendly tiger shark named Laverne and a ray named Big Bertha; photographs and short bios of the animals in the backmatter give a unique sense of realism to the fictional story. The narrative is filled with a calm sense of wonder and respectful admiration of the ocean and its ecosystem, and explores themes of conservation. These elements are furthered by the gorgeously detailed and realistic artwork, which deftly manages to convey emotion and scale. However, the text can often be repetitive and slow, making for a lengthy read that younger bookworms may not appreciate; though JJ adored the illustrations, she was getting fairly tired of the story about halfway though. Lastly, a pronunciation guide for the beautiful Hawaiian names and phrases would have been a welcome addition for haole readers such as myself. But otherwise, this fascinating tale is worth a read, and Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the author in exchange for an honest review.)

Oscar The Octopus: A Book About the Months of the Year (Matthew Van Fleet)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Oscar The Octopus: A Book About the Months of the Year by Matthew Van Fleet, an aquatic, interactive adventure for little bookworms.

Readers follow the mostly unseen – save for his tentacles – Oscar as he spends the year catching a menagerie of sea creatures (it’s never directly explained what he DOES with the creatures he captures, and eventually they are all released). With each page dedicated to a month of the year, a touch-and-feel element – along with the text – gives the reader a clue as to what creature Oscar has caught this time; a lift-the-flap and label reveals the various sea animals, such as lionfish, sea otters, sharks, cuttlefish and more. At last, when his year of fishing is done, Oscar feels a tickle in his nose. Letting loose a mighty sneeze, he releases his smiling collection of new friends back out into the sea.

Tons of fun. While the light story is a little confusing, and the subtitle a tad misleading (the subject matter has as much to do with sea animals, colors, and the touch-and-feel sensory elements as the months of the year), the final product is so much fun for little readers that it’s easily forgivable. JJ had an absolute blast feeling sticky cuttlefish tentacles and discovering furry penguin chicks, and begged to be read the story a second time the moment we finished – always a telling sign of how engaging a book is. Van Fleet’s illustrations strike a good balance between natural authenticity and cartoon appeal for each of the creatures, and the story is a brisk yet immensely entertaining read. A lovely addition to any curious young bookworm’s library, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Pearl (Molly Idle)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Pearl by Molly Idle, a fable of mermaids and the importance of little things.

Beneath the ocean’s gentle waves, mermaids – the guardians of the deep – work to protect the sea’s most precious things. Some tend the forests of kelp, some keep their eye on the colorful coral reefs, and some protect the giant, majestic creatures. One little mermaid, Pearl, longs to do her part. She informs her mother that she is ready, and after a moment’s consideration, her mother agrees. Taking Pearl up to a sparkling shoreline, she assigns the young mermaid her task: protecting a single grain of sand. Pearl is heartbroken, seeing her mother’s instruction as a cruel joke, and sinks down to the bottom of the ocean in despair. Squeezing the grain of sand in anger, she is surprised to see it begin to glow. Gently holding it once more, she begins to see the little grain become larger, smoother, and luminescent. Pearl commits herself to her task, and with a bit of patience and dedication, she will find that even the smallest grain of sand has the potential for greatness.

Fabulous. This is the rare children’s story that is simple enough to be enjoyed by a reader of any age, yet so layered and complex that multiple lessons and meanings can be taken from it. A reflection on the environment, or how no effort is too small, or how every great thing began as something little, or the gift of nurturing care – this lovely little fable is all of the above and more. Idle’s muted oceanic color palette is as soothing as it is gorgeous, and her incredible animation-style art is a thing of beauty. The length is fine for all ages, and JJ was memorized by Pearl’s undersea adventure. A treasure, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!