Thursday, April 10, 2014

Science Poetry Pairings - The Ocean

As a child I wanted to be the female version of Jacques Cousteau. I even enrolled in the Coast Guard Academy (didn't stay), studied marine biology in college (though I switched my major to biochemistry), and worked as a boat-hand on a yacht (longest summer of my life). I did anything and everything to spend time on the water.

The ocean is a remarkable place, with vast portions of it still undiscovered. Today's book trio is inspired by this amazing natural resource.

Poetry Book
Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems, written by Kate Coombs and illustrated by Meilo So, is a collection of 23 poems highlighting the seaside and wonders of the ocean world. Winner of the 2013 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, this collection is wide-ranging in both mood and topics covered. The poems are carefully crafted and capture the sweeping rhythm of the ocean.

From the shore to deep water, Coombs highlights the sights and sounds of the ocean and the creatures that live there. Here are my two favorite poems.

Sand's Story

We used to be rocks,
we used to be stones.
We stood proud as castles,
altars, and thrones.

Once we were massive,
looming in rings,
holding up temples
and posing as kings.

Now we grind and we grumble,
humbled and grave,
at the touch of our breaker
and maker, the wave.

One page in the book opens lengthwise with a huge blue whale poised with its tale out of the water, covering a large portion of the double-page spread and looming over a shipwreck at the bottom of the page. Here's the poem found there.


Here lie the bones
of twenty trees,
lost far from home
under gallons of seas.

Poems ©Kate Coombs. All rights reserved.

Meilo So’s gorgeous watercolors nicely complement and bring Coombs' poems to life.

Nonfiction Picture Books
Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, treats readers to the wonder of the world's oceans. Here's how it begins.
Viewed from space, the earth looks like a watery blue ball. Oceans cover more than two-thirds of the globe's surface, and well over half the planet lies beneath water more than a mile (1 1/2 kilometers) deep. We have explored only a small fraction of the oceans. In fact, more humans have walked on the moon than have visited the deepest spot in the sea.
Jenkins' tour of the oceans begins at the surface and ends in the Marianas Trench. Each double page spread contains a paragraph (or two) of information about that particular depth, illustration of the inhabitants, and a depth meter. The depth meter appears on the right edge of each spread and extends from the top of the page (the surface) to the bottom (deepest spot in the ocean). The depth is marked with what looks like a red push-pin and is labeled with the distance below sea level (in both feet and meters) and the temperature (in both Fahrenheit and Celsius).

How much do we really know about the earth's oceans and the creatures that live there? The answer is, not much. In clear, concise text, Jenkins takes us on an unbelievable, fact-filled journey. The illustrations of the creatures, from the beautiful and familiar to strange and exotic (weird!), are gloriously rendered. (See images herehere and at this terrific review at Seven Imp.) At the end of the book are five full pages of background information on the animals in the book. Each section includes a diagram that shows the size of each creature compare to an adult human's body or hand. The final page includes a brief bibliography and another depth meter that shows how deep humans and sea vessels can descend.

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, written and illustrated by Claire A. Nivola, is a biography that introduces readers to Earle's early life, her passion for the ocean, and her work in ocean exploration and advocacy. The gorgeous illustrations showcase the wonders of the sea. Nivola's  use of quotes from Earle nicely convey the spirit of this underwater explorer.

As an oceanographer, Earle has led more than 60 expeditions worldwide and spent more than 7000 hours underwater in connection with her research. She is one of the few divers to explore the deepest spot in the ocean. In 1990 she was appointed as Chief Scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the first woman to hold such a position. Today Dr. Earle is Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society.

Perfect Together
While many "subject area" poetry books today include informational text or back matter, Coombs title is free of these additions and focuses solely on words and poetry. This is not a bad thing. Her poems invite readers into the ocean world and make them want to learn more. Following up with Jenkins' book will certainly further open up the ocean realm and encourage even more questions. I like to include Earle's biography here so that students can see anyone with a dream can achieve it, and that working as an ocean scientist is a real possibility.

For additional resources, consider these sites.


  1. Another brilliant Science Poetry Pairing, Tricia! Leslie Bulion has some pretty terrific ocean poems too--in her own collections and in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (where Kate Coombs is very well-represented also)!

    1. Thanks, Janet. I love Leslie's work and featured her in last year's Poetry in the Classroom posts on oceans and bugs!

      My final post of the month is on the anthology and my favorite authors of science books for kids.

  2. This is terrific. I love Water Sings Blue. It was my introduction to Kate Coombs wonderful poetry. The other books look like great companions. Thanks for another interesting post.

  3. I love all things ocean. And Kate's book is gorgeous! Have you read MANFISH? A great bio that would go with these books, too. (THough I realize it's no longer a pair then:>)