The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Wow! Ocean! and Coral Reefs

In this week’s double book entry, we feature two recent picture books about the ocean that have exceptional visual appeal.
Wow! Ocean!
Written and Illustrated by Robert Neubecker
Published by Disney Hyperion Books in 2011
All Ages
Wow! Ocean!, the latest title in Robert Neubecker’s series of highly visual concept books, features the animal and plant life of the ocean from its shores to its deepest depths. Readers travel with Izzy and her family from her mountaintop home to the beach and on into the ocean realms. Izzy and her sister take a fantastical scuba diving trip from tidal pools, to coral reefs, to the deepest depths. In brightly bordered double page spreads, which are sometimes extended by fold out pages, Neubecker explores categories of ocean inhabitants. As in previous titles in the series, each page contains a single phrase, such as “Wow! Turtles.” The ocean creatures depicted in the detailed illustrations are labeled in tiny font. Readers will also enjoy searching the pleasingly crowded pages to find Izzy’s dog, a yellow lab, who makes an appearance on each double page spread. An excellent introduction to the wonder of the ocean, this title celebrates the infinite variety and beauty of the aquatic world.
Coral Reefs
Written and Illustrated by Jason Chin
Published by Roaring Brook Press in 2011
Grades 1 and up
What’s that building doing underwater and why is that girl swimming so close to that big shark? The cover image of Jason Chin’s Coral Reefs is an immediate draw for readers of all ages and this incredible visual appeal is sustained throughout a reading of this unusual picture book. Defying traditional genre classifications, Chin presents a nonfiction survey of coral reefs and their characteristics that is accompanied by fantastical images. A young girl reaches for a book on the shelves of New York Public Library bearing the same cover images as the book the reader holds in his/her hands. As she begins to read, the library around her is slowly transformed into a coral reef environment. Soon she is completely immersed, swimming along with amazing aquatic creatures, yet the city streets are still visible in the background. As she completes the book, she emerges, soggy on the front library steps where she passes the book on to other children who wonder at her appearance. Running alongside these amazingly detailed images of reef life, the reader experiences the text, which is presumably being read by the young girl. The structure and species of the reef are described with special emphasis placed on the symbiotic relationships found in the reef habitat. Back matter describes the current threats to reef habitats from climate change and ocean acidification and a helpful author’s note describes Chin’s research processes. This unique informational text will surely inspire further inquiry into the special habitat it presents.
Teaching Invitations
  • Mural Making. Jason Chin and Robert Neubecker both achieve the effect of making the viewer feel as if he/she were underwater, face to face with remarkable ocean creatures and plants. Dedicate one of your classroom walls (or the wall in hallway outside your room) to the creation of an underwater mural. Discuss the research processes used by the artists to create accurate representations of the undersea world. Ask students to identify ocean animals and plants that they would like to include in the mural. Assist students to obtain photographs (or even better, take a field trip to a local aquarium) to use as models for their artwork. With older students, you can decide whether you will scale the images to represent real size differences.
  • Media Exploration. The two author-artists of these books use very different artistic styles and media to wonderful effect in these titles. Gather together a collection of picture books with undersea settings that feature the use of different artistic media and styles, such as Fish Wish by Bob Barner, Life in a Coral Reef by Wendy Pfeffer and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish in the Sea by Chris Butterworth and illustrated by John Lawrence, and I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry. Discuss the aesthetic responses inspired by different styles and media. Collaborate with your art teacher to offer your students the opportunity to make their own undersea scenes. Students can sketch their work with pencil and then reproduce their sketch multiple times, using different media. Matte and/or frame their works of art and hang them in hallways for all to enjoy.
  • How do we see under the sea? Ask you students to consider how we know what the undersea world looks like. Engage your students in research into the different technologies that humans have used to explore the undersea world. Invite small groups of students to learn more about specific tools and methods and to present their findings to their classmates.
  • Undersea Explorers. In addition to researching ocean exploration technologies, you may also want to introduce students to famous ocean explorers. Gather together a collection of biographies about marine scientist such as Sylvia Earle, Jacques Cousteau, and Robert Ballard. Compare their life stories and accomplishments. When did their passionate interest in the ocean first surface? How did they achieve their goal of ocean exploration? What were / are their research processes and interests? If possible, make contact with an ocean scientist, either through an in class visit or with a Skype interview. Students should prepare for the interview by developing lists of possible questions.
  • Ocean Regions. Coral Reefs presents information and images of reefs in the Caribbean sea, while Wow! Ocean!, Neubecker explores a range of ocean environments. Introduce the geography of the ocean and divide students into small groups to learn more about the characteristics of the ocean at different depths and in different regions of the world. Steve Jenkins’ Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea will be a helpful resource (and has equal visual appeal to the two texts featured this week). Students can prepare presentations of their learning to share with classmates and family members.
  • Fantastical Nonfiction. Both of these titles defy exact genre classification. They contain a great deal of nonfiction information, yet include elements of fantasy. Discuss which aspects of the text are nonfiction and which are fantasy; you might want to throw Joanna Cole’s Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor into the mix as well. Talk about the author’s responsibility to represent any nonfiction information accurately – review the back matter of Coral Reefs and examine the labeling of ocean creatures in Wow! Ocean. To further expand the discussion of this blended genre with older students, you could also examine the Guardians of Ga’hoole series by Kathryn Lasky. Invite students to try their own hand at writing a text that melds elements of nonfiction and fantasy.
  • Relationships in Nature. The text of Coral Reefs invites consideration of the interrelationships among species and between species and their habitats. Discuss the examples of symbiotic relationships, and the concept of a food chain and food web as they are presented in the text. The wonderful book, Trout are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre can help to extend this discussion.
Critical Literacy
  • Coral Reef Endangerment. Do some further online research to see when scientists first became aware of changes occurring in coral reefs. Gather together a collection of informational texts featuring the coral reef; be sure to include books that were written ten or more years ago (see the Further Resources section below for some suggestions). Read the books aloud to the students or give small groups titles to read together. Use post it notes or a large chart to compare the information presented in the books. Which books, like Jason Chin’s Coral Reefs, discuss the effects of climate change on the health of coral reefs? Ask your students to draw on the information they learn about coral reef bleaching to write about coral reefs as if they are writing 10-20 years from now. Will coral reefs fail to thrive or will people take action to save the reefs?
Further Explorations
Online Resources
Jason Chin’s Website
Robert Neubecker’s Website
A Video Interview with Robert Neubecker
Monterey Bay Aquarium
National Aquarium Baltimore
Georgia Aquarium
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Geographic: The Ocean
National Geographic Kids: Video
Impact of Climate Change on Coral Reefs
Archbold, (1996). Deep sea explorer: The story of Robert Ballard, the discoverer of the Titanic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • This biography for older readers presents the accomplishments of Robert Ballard, the Woods Hole Oceanographic scientist who found the wreck of the Titanic and pioneered undersea exploration equipment.
Barner, B. (2000). Fish wish. New York: Holiday House.
  • Following a trip to an aquarium a boy imagines himself a fish swimming in a coral reef; this picture book, which also blends fantasy and nonfiction incorporates is illustrated in mixed media collage.
Butterworth, C. (2006). Sea horse: The shyest fish in the sea. Ill. by J. Lawrence. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press
Spectacular and detailed vinyl engravings depict the life cycle of the sea horse in this informative picture book.
Berne, J. (2008). Manfish: A story of Jacques Cousteau. Ill. by E. Puybaret. San Francisco: Chronicle.
  • This picture book biography presents the life and passion of the famous oceanographer who invented the aqualung.
Collard, S.B. (2006). On the coral reefs. New York: Marshall Cavendish / Benchmark.
  • This text for intermediate readers follows a marine biologist and her work studying fish in the coral reef. Includes information about the impact of global warming.
Collard, S.B. (2005). One night in a coral sea. Ill. by R. Brickman. Cambridge, MA: Charlesbridge.
  • Explains the reproduction of coral by describing a spawning in the Great Barrier Reef.
Earle, S.A. (2003). Coral reefs. Ill. by B. Matthews. Washington DC: National Geographic.
  • Written by marine biologist Sylvia Earle, this title in the Jump into Science series introduces readers to the life cycles of the coral reef.
Earle, S.A. (1999). Dive: My adventures in the deep frontier. Washington DC: National Geographic.
  • The marine biologist and conservationist describes her adventures, motivations, and research in this autobiographical title.
Earle, S.A. (1999). Hello fish!: Visiting the coral reef. Washington DC: National Georgraphic.
  • With oversized photographs and brief text, the famous marine biologist, introduces readers to twelve fish who inhabit the coral reefs.
Gibbons, G. (2007). Coral Reefs. New York: Holiday House.
  • This informative survey text presents information about sea life in coral reefs around the world; includes a discussion of the threats facing coral reef habitats.
Jenkins, S. (2009). Down, down, down: A journey to the bottom of the sea. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • With his distinctive paper collage illustrations, the author explores the regions that comprise the depths of the ocean.
Lasky, K. (2003). The capture: The guardians of Ga’hoole: Book one. New York: Scholastic.
  • In this fantasy series Kathryn Lasky draws on factual information about the characteristics and behaviors of owls.
Markle, S. (1999). Down, down, down in the ocean. Ill. by B. Marstall. New York: Walker.
  • An exploration of ocean life at three different depths off the coast of California.
Pfeffer, W. (2009). Life in a coral reef. Ill. by S. Jenkins. New York: Collins.
  • This title in the Let’s Read and Find Out series introduces young readers to the habitat of the coral reef. Steve Jenkins distinctive paper collage illustrations enhance this informative title.
Sayre, A.P. (2008). Ill. by K. Endle. Trout are made of trees. Cambridge, MA: Charlesbridge.
  • This intriguing picture book explores the life cycle or a trout and the interrelationships of a brook ecosystem.
Sherry, K. (2007). I’m the biggest thing in the ocean. New York: Dial Books.
  • A giant squid compares his size to various other ocean creatures, but has to curtail his bragging when he is swallowed by a giant whale; this picture book incorporates cartoon style illustrations.
Turner, P.S. (2010). Project seahorse. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Part of the wonderful Scientists in the Field series, this title features scientists’ and community members’ multifaceted efforts to save endangered seahorses in a coral reef off of the Philippines.
Walker, S.M. (2000). Seahorse reef: A story of the South Pacific. Ill. by. S.J. Petruccio. Norwalk, CT: Soundprints.
  • Describes the life cycle and behaviors of seahorses living in a coral reef of the Philippines.

Erika Thulin Dawes About Erika Thulin Dawes

Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.