Beneath the Waves

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle
Written and Illustrated by Claire A. Nivola
(Frances Foster Books, 2012, New York, $17.99)

To study the world’s oceans and their inhabitants, Sylvia Earle has donned diving gear, lived beneath the water for two weeks, and climbed into submergible apparatuses worthy of nineteenth century science fiction. During her ventures into the deep, the oceanographer has encountered curious clownfish, glowing coral reef, and friendly marine mammals. Earle has also written extensively about the wonders of the ocean and the pressing need to protect them and the panoply of life they hold.

In Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, author-illustrator Claire A. Nivola introduces children to both Earle and the marvelous worlds she explores. The picture-book biography transports readers from Earle’s childhood as a budding naturalist through her scientific career. However, the narrative falters a bit in one spread in which Nivola enumerates Earle’s major accomplishments. This information, although fascinating, would be better suited to a timeline or an afterword.

The book is strongest when Nivola reveals the wondrous things Earle discovered under the sea. Reading this picture-book biography is like accompanying Earle on a deep sea journey. Along the way, readers touch blue coral, marvel at the tiny, delicate creatures of the deep, and swim around schools of highly individualized fish. In one especially startling illustration, a tiny Earle swims up to an enormous humpback whale, who gazes back at her. Here, both the youngest listeners and adult readers should find themselves mesmerized by the whale’s size and consciousness.

Life in the Ocean should engage young listeners and middle-grade readers alike; the audiences will reap different rewards from Nivola’s lyrical narrative and expansive, often luminous, illustrations. The book is more than a simple account of Earle’s life and career. It is a window into the world that has transfixed her for a lifetime.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

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