Monday, July 9, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Willow Dawson

I'm not sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand, it's a marvelous compendium of research, history and information about the ocean with a ton of awesome activities. It has simple, everyday suggestions of things kids can do to help.

On the other hand, it starts out with and continues throughout the book with an endless series of warnings on the ocean's coming demise and destruction.

I'm not saying I disagree with these warnings - but I'm always leary of books for children that emphasize the coming destruction of the environment without concrete ways they can make a difference. I find it very odd that many parents and teachers are reluctant to talk to kids about big things like death, religion, or sexuality but have no problem handing over "the world is gonna be horribly destroyed in a few years" books.

Ahem. Anyways. After an introduction about the importance and plight of the ocean, the book continues into the sea, alternating between simple science experiments and information about the ocean. There are two sections near the beginning of things kids can do to help (kudos to the author for realizing that not everybody lives near public transportation or owns their own house!). Current events and the aftermath of disasters like the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill are highlighted in What's Happening Now sections. There are also features on The Ocean at Risk.

The science experiments, combined with information about life in the ocean, are the best features of this book. They use simple things you can find at the grocery store or in the kitchen and help demonstrate things like how blubber works, what happens when pollutants mix in the water, how fish use camouflage underwater, and how convection currents work.

I didn't care for Dawson's oddly retro illustrations - especially her odd people with pink circles on the cheeks - but there are also plenty of photographs to enjoy. The book has an index, but no source notes, bibliography, or further reading.

So, to sum up the pros and cons:
The Good: Lots of ocean facts, great experiments, general positive "things can be changed" attitude, simple ways kids can help, photographs.

The Bad: Ways to help stops early on in the book and there's nothing kids can do for many of the problems presented, no source notes or further reading, and I found the cover and illustrations unattractive.

Verdict: You decide.

ISBN: 9781554537464; Published April 2012 by Kids Can Press; Borrowed from the library


Jeanne Walker Harvey said...

Hi Jennifer, Thanks for sharing this book. This would have been just the book my son would have loved -- all about the ocean AND with simple experiments.

Myra Garces-Bacsal from GatheringBooks said...

Hi Jennifer, I am glad that you have shared both the things that worked for you and those which didn't in this book. I am also wary of didactic materials which contain dire pronouncements about the world. :)

Jennifer said...

I wouldn't say it was really didactic, but it definitely did have quite a few dire pronouncements.

Perogyo said...

I think this is the first time we disagree about a book! Perhaps it's just my location (and the events around us recently). Here in Japan we are all pretty much aware that our ocean is a ticking time bomb so this wasn't anywhere near as bad as the evening news. :)

We have done quite a few of the experiments in the book and they have worked well, but some are aimed at a much higher age level than my kids so I can't speak to all of them.

Jennifer said...

I like more perspectives! My thing isn't so much "don't tell kids anything negative" because I am very much into telling kids the TRUTH. I just don't like the "everything is being destroyed and there's NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT" attitude that comes through in many of these books. This one really does have a pretty positive slant overall though - I just would have liked more ways kids can help and source notes.