Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle

Cindy: When I was a fledgling librarian I had a teacher who loved to ask his students to research items that he knew I had little or nothing about in the library. One of those topics was Sylvia Earle. There were no biographies available, our one computer ran with a cassette deck, and my TOM subscription (Text on Microfiche) and the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature yielded little on Earle. Even though this teacher is long retired, I think of him whenever I run across resources for his long-ago projects. Life in the Ocean (Farrar 2012) would have delighted him. This picture book biography explores young Sylvia’s fascination with water starting with her New Jersey childhood farm pond and creek and then the Gulf of Mexico after a move to Florida at the age of twelve.

I just finished scuba diving lessons and am ready for my first open water dive so it was fascinating to read about Sylvia’s increasing comfort below the surface, from her first dive at 16, to a two-week stint living in the deep-sea station Tektite II in 1970. Her life’s work has been a combination of learning about the oceans and working to protect them from human generated harm. The two page detailed author’s note ends with this quote by Earle:

Looking into the eyes of a wild dolphin–who is looking into mine–inspires me to learn everything I can about them and do everything I can to take care of them…You can’t care if you don’t know.

While this book is intended for a young audience, it would make a great writing prompt for middle or high schoolers. It would be easy to read the book aloud and share the illustrations with a document camera and have students respond to the call for action to protect the oceans, with or without further research.

Lynn:  Claire Nivola has the gift of seeing and sharing the small wonders in the world around us.  I loved her two earlier books, Orani:  My Father’s Village and Planting the Trees of Kenya, both of which touched on the importance of noticing and valuing the natural world.  In Life in the Ocean, her beautiful detailed drawings shine again against a gorgeous blue or green palette and the creatures of the sea are drawn with exquisite care.  This book is a visual treat and an inspiring one, celebrating both the life of this dedicated scientist and the sea that she studies.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees.

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