What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Morning,
Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Claire A. Nivola

h1 April 6th, 2012 by jules

“So much of diving is an all-too-brief glimpse below the surface. Sylvia had always wanted to know what it was like to live in the sea, to be a part of the daily life of the underwater world. … Using a small flashlight at night, she noticed that the day fish ‘tucked in’ to the same nooks and crevices the night fish had just vacated, each fish often returning time and again to its same resting place—just as we do!”
(Click to enlarge spread and see in its entirety)

This morning over at Kirkus, I write about Mary Ann Hoberman’s Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn By Heart, illustrated by Michael Emberley. The link is here.

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Last week, I took a look at Claire A. Nivola’s newest picture book, Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle. That link is here.

I’ve got some more spreads from the biography today, and Claire is also here to say a bit about her research for this beautiful book …

[Note: The photo of Claire below comes from my 2011 7-Imp interview with her, one of my favorite interviews at this site, I have to say.]

Claire: Last year, while visiting a school in Manhattan that had chosen Planting the Trees of Kenya for its book day, I was asked by a young boy if I had met Wangari Maathai. When I said no, he burst out in visible indignation, ‘You wrote a book about Wangari Maathai and you never even met her!!!!’

I am afraid the same is true of Life in the Ocean. Sylvia Earle, like the late Wangari Maathai, is a very busy woman. We spoke once briefly over the phone, early on in the project, and at the end, when I sent her a PDF of the complete book, she wrote with some comments and thanked me warmly for the outcome. Her daughter, Liz Taylor, offered consistent support and help to the project.

The inspiration for the book originally came from hearing Sylvia Earle speak during an hour-long interview on Tom Ashbrook’s show, On Point (National Public Radio, February 2009). She began by describing what she had seen with her own eyes during her many deep sea dives. Her undiminished sense of wonder, despite decades of diving, was contagious. She told of extraordinary creatures, curious about her, stunningly varied, many of them brilliant with bioluminescent colors. I had no idea! By the time her tone darkened and she spoke of the crisis of the ocean—our crisis of survival, by consequence—I was hooked.

“…Sylvia could not possibly have imagined what awaited her as they drove up the dead-end street to their new home north of Clearwater. There before her lay the vast, broad sea. In New Jersey she had visited the Atlantic Ocean, but this water was a clear blue-green, and it was warm and calm—the Gulf of Mexico right in her own backyard! It was then, her mother said, that Sylvia ‘lost her heart to the water.'”
(Click to enlarge spread and see in its entirety)

“Of that time, she has said, ‘I’m changed forever because I lived underwater for two weeks in 1970. I wish that everybody could go live underwater if only for a day.'”
(Click to enlarge spread and see in its entirety)

I decided to follow her approach. In my book, I tried first to engage the child reader with the enchantments of the ocean—Sylvia’s own enchantment—and then followed with an author’s note containing the hard-hitting facts for the child, parent, or teacher by now hopefully engaged enough to care about the fate of that blue world.

“When you look out over the ocean, stop to think of the vast mountains, valleys, and plains below its surface. Think of how it breathes and gives us life. And think of all the wondrous creatures it holds it in its waters—from whales, to busy, colorful coral reefs, to those living firework displays that light up the
cold, black waters of its mysterious depths.”

(Click to enlarge spread and see in its entirety)

Though I was reassured that mother and daughter found the book true to Sylvia Earle’s story, I was worried that I might have made some inadvertent errors, like putting a fish into the night coral reef scene that would only appear by day, or vice versa. James McCarthy, Biological Oceanography professor at Harvard University, who may never have been called by a stranger with such a request as mine before, generously took the time to look over every detail.

* * *

Big thanks again to Claire for visiting.

LIFE IN THE OCEAN: THE STORY OF OCEANOGRAPHER SYLVIA EARLE. Copyright © 2012 by Claire A. Nivola. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. Spreads used with permission of the publisher.

8 comments to “What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Morning,
Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Claire A. Nivola”


  2. Wow, what a great story with beautiful images. We’ll have to look this one up.

  3. We will definitely be adding this to our collection. Breathtaking illustrations… and I like her approach to the telling of Sylvia’s life. Thanks so much.

  4. Thanks for all this stunning art — the blue takes my breath away. My first major as a college freshman was marine biology and this book made me a bit wistful about the path not taken.

  5. Re: your Kirkus column (I still can’t get comments to post there–either the Kirkus site hates me or my MacBook does not like the Kirkus site, even on a holiday), I agree about how important it is for kids to memorize and recite poetry. It may cause them distress, but most kids I observe who do it get excited about it and are proud of their work and accomplishment, and I talk to adults all the time who remember poems they had to memorize as children. It leaves an impression. I can still recite the first poem I ever memorized, which was a school assignment when I was in second grade, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.

  6. Adrienne, yes. Good points, all. (And not only do some people have trouble leaving comments over at that site, but they also disappear after a while. Weird.)

    I didn’t think I could still recite any of the ones I learned in childhood — till that freshman dorm moment mentioned in the column (which I still laugh about)! So, yes, powerful stuff.

  7. Hi Jules,
    I didn’t comment on this at the time, don’t remember why, but thanks for reconnecting me with this entry. What a thoroughly calm and charming and deep thinking person. Her devotion is completely inspiring. And I love her work so much. Thanks!

  8. […] Claire A. Nivola (April 6, 2012), pictured right, on what prompted her to write Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer […]

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