I was working on a post about “Kids’ Books about the Ocean” and my review of this one book became so long that I’m making this its own post!
Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef by Berkes and Canyon is an absolutely delightful book – perhaps one of my favorite kids’ non-fiction books ever. What’s to love about it?
- The text – great rhyme and rhythm you can sing – it’s based on the song “Over in the Meadow.” (In the back of the book, there’s sheet music and all verses on one page.)
- The pictures are stunning. Beautiful at first glance, even better when you pay attention to all the fine details. The illustrator uses polymer clay (e.g. Sculpey or Fimo) to create these incredible illustrations. (see detailed illustrations below) There’s even a page in the back that describes how they were made. (I’m debating for next year’s class about putting out some play-dough and some close-ups like this one of the clown fish to encourage kids to try rolling snakes of play-dough and balls of play-dough to create something a little like the background of this picture.)
- The factual information about sea life and how it’s offered. In some books, they have the main text for little ones on the page, then a box or sidebar with more detailed info for older kids on the same page. I find this visually distracting, and it’s odd when reading aloud to skip over these boxes, but if you read them, they interrupt the rhyme and rhtyhm of the story. This book has a better solution. The main page has the basic info: “squirt” says the mother octopus, “grind” says the parrotfish, and “stir” says the stingray. Then in the back, there’s a paragraph of info about octopi, that explains how they squirt dark ink, and a paragraph about parrotfish whose teeth are fused into a beak that grinds coral, and info about how rays use their fins to stir the sandy ocean floor to find mussels and small crustaceans. There is also a section on “how many babies do they really have” (the book says “a mother octopus and her octopus one” but really an octopus may lay thousands of eggs at a time) and on the coral reef community. So, a parent or older child can find lots more info, but it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the main picture book.
- The fact that it’s a great counting book. For example, on the five page, not only are their five pufferfish in the picture, there’s also five pieces of coral, and five starfish with the text. And after we’ve reached ten, the final page says “over in the ocean where the sea creatures play while their parents all were resting, they up and swam away. ‘Find us’ said the children, ‘From ten to one!’ When you find all the creatures, then this rhyme is done.” It then shows a small picture of 10 seahorses, 9 grunts, 8 needlefish and so on next to an illustration of a coral reef where you can find all the creatures on the list who you have seen throughout the book, now all swimming together.
- In the back, there’s tips from the author on how to use in circle time, suggesting the kids could make sea creature puppets to go with the book, and offering fingerplay gestures for each verse.
- Finally, there is an app for IPad based on this book, a counting and musical app that has won multiple awards. The image at the top of this post is from the app. (I haven’t played it because we don’t own any Apple devices…)
The author has written several other books. So far, I’ve checked out:
Over in a River: Flowing Out to the Sea. It’s also to the tune of Over in a Meadow: “Over in a river, in the warm sunshine lived a mother tree frog and her froglets nine. Hop said the mother…”. Also a counting book. Each page includes a basic map of the United States, and shows the location of the river where the animals on that page could be found, and on the last page of the story, you find/count the creatures on a map that shows all the rivers. In the back of the book, there’s info about the rivers, the animals, suggested class activities, and recommended books. Also an excellent book. The illustrations made with cut paper, pastels and colored pencils are truly lovely, but not as unique.
Going Around the Sun: Some Planetary Fun. Same tune. Not really a counting book, though it does refer to the number of each planet in order out from the sun: “Up in outer space, many moons in its heaven, is the planet Uranus. This is planet number seven.” It also includes facts about each planet in the back, and ideas for classroom activities. So, a lot of strengths, but truthfully I don’t like it as much as the others. To fit the musical structure, she had to include commands that Mother Sun gives to the planets (my co-teacher hates anthropomorphized stars and planets…) and the commands are stretching things: She tells Neptune “‘Move’ said the Mother. ‘I move,’ said Eight. So it moved – oh, so slowly and the Sun had to wait.” The note on the page explains that “Neptune takes 165 Earth-years to go around the Sun – it needs to move!” For Mars: “‘Turn’ said the Mother. ‘I turn’ said Four. So it turned and we learned there was iron in its core.” It works, but it’s not great. However, the illustrations by Mason are beautiful. They’re done with melted crayon for the background – she covers a griddle with foil and heats it, then lays paper on it and draws with crayon, which melts as you draw. (We used this simple technique in our Chemistry Reactions week.) Then she uses acrylic paint, color pencils and computers to create the planets.
What’s in the Garden, which I review in the Seeds and Plants theme.
All these books are published by Dawn Publications, which is “dedicated to inspiring in children a deeper understanding and appreciation for all life on Earth.” At their website www.dawnpub.com, they have a blog about their books, which includes class activities for each that meet Common Core standards. And, they have a huge collection of downloadable activities to connect kids and nature: https://dawnpub.com/activity/. I’ve only just begun to look at this, but it looks great!! It’s on my to-do list to explore this summer!