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Sea Worthy Picture Books Help Young Readers Learn to Love Our Oceans

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As Earth Day approaches, it's smart to introduce the youngest of children to the ocean and its vast importance. These colorful, sweet books offer celebrations of sea life so youngsters can learn to appreciate and take care of our waterways.

"Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle" by Claire A. Nivola; Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 32 pages; $17.99.

Sylvia Earle was a biologist and botanist, even as a child, before moving to Florida and exploring the Gulf of Mexico in her own backyard. Since then, Sylvia has designed submersibles for underwater exploration, has taken deep-water walks and lived at the bottom of the ocean for two weeks. She urgently calls to others, including children here, to protect what she calls "the blue heart of the planet."

Nivola's detailed, intricate artwork perfectly captures Sylvia's busy world above and under the sea in her fantastic picture book. Umpteen fish and plants form a watery backdrop to the accomplished oceanographer's life story, from scuba diving while researching algae to being the only woman on a research ship expedition in the Indian Ocean.

A lengthy author's note at the back of the book offers more detail to Earle's life and her reiteration that we think about and take care of oceans before it's too late.

"In the Sea" by David Elliott; illustrated by Holly Meade; Candlewick Press; 32 pages; $16.99.

Frame-worthy woodcut illustrations and brief but witty poems about sea creatures will thrill budding oceanographers. Beginning with a ditty about "The Sea Horse," — "See the sea horse in the sea. Where else would the sea horse be? For though it's dainty as a wish, the sea horse is, you see, a fish." To the octopus — "You appear out of the blue, an eight-armed apparition, then vanish in a cloud of ink. No ghost, but a magician." The poems are easy to read and appealing.

Meade's watery colored pictures present animals exploding off the oversized pages, resulting in a picture book that's simply gorgeously fun. "In the Sea" comes just after the pair's similar "On the Farm" and "In the Wild."

"I Spy Under the Sea" by Edward Gibbs; Templar Books/Candlewick Press; 32 pages; $14.99.

In this sturdy "I Spy" book, tots can look through spy holes to try to guess what animal swims on the next page.

They can also count friendly sea creatures from seven angelfish down to one shark. Clues are easy, "I spy with my little eye ... something with big claws. I walk sideways on the beach," while the ocean animals smile on every page.

Thicker than average pages and cover hold up to repeated readings, while the luscious ocean colors are refreshing and cool.

"Dolphin Baby!" by Nicola Davies; illustrated by Brita Granstrom; Candlewick Press; 30 pages; $15.99.

This lovely, fun tale of a dolphin baby's first years of life highlights the universal theme of the mother-child bond and the special appeal of dolphins. The baby calf plays, swims, clicks, whistles, and cuddles with Mom, while gentle explanations are given about baby dolphin's development.

Besides the informative tale, small sidebars explain the text further. When Dolphin catches his first fish, smaller nearby text tells "snacking on fish near the surface is just one of the many ways dolphins learn to catch their dinner."

British zoologist Nicola Davies obviously has a passion for dolphins, and Granstrom's magical watercolors pay homage to the fun and beauty of these special animals.

"Seababy: A Little Otter Returns Home" by Ellen Levine; illustrated by Jon Van Zyle; Walker & Company/Bloomsbury USA; 32 pages; $16.99.

A baby otter is separated from his mother during a storm and washes up on shore where he's rescued and taken to an aquarium to recover. There, the baby otter relearns how to swim, eat and play and is united with a new adoptive mother. Before long, baby otter is released back to the wild where he finds new friends, and at the satisfying end, wraps himself in seaweed and falls asleep in the rolling sea.

A gentle and sweet tale of hope, adoption and reassuring care, "Seababy" also teaches kids about resilience and how to adapt to change. It's also a lovely introduction to some of the most adorable of all sea animals.

KIDBITS

"Oceans" by Dan Green; from Basher Science and Kingfisher Publishing; 128 pages and $8.99, is a tote-worthy little book with bold illustrations and plenty of personality-filled information about the oceans. A colorful poster is also included.

"Baby Animals: In the Sea" is also from Kingfisher (14 pages; $6.99) and is a sturdy, bright, little board book with up-close photographs of sea animals and brief introductions.

To find out more about Lee Littlewood and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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