(story)time: Over in the Ocean, in a Coral Reef

I have a real soft spot for artists that get the details right… and then replicate those details many (maybe hundreds, thousands of) times over. So I’m recommending this read on a couple of levels. Over in the Ocean, in a Coral Reef by Marianne Berkes is an excellent book on its own – it’s a sing-songy romp through the ocean, incorporating counting skills up to ten, fantastic sea creature verbs like “dart” and “squirt”, and there are multiple ways to use this book for learning – music, rhythm, rhyming, counting, movement.

But it is illustrator Jeanette Canyon’s three dimensional polymer clay sculptures that really hook me. I could examine one of those octopus tentacles all day – and then she makes a few billion more, so naturally I love her. The endless swirling backdrop of the ocean and the sand – tiny rolls of clay wound into concentric circles, the way the aqua swirls turn into inky black ones beneath the octopus, each piece of ocean coral, rolled and rendered in neon bright colors. You can get lost in these pages, and discover something new each time. 

Our hardcover edition has several pages at the end of the book that include a musical score for the words, descriptions of various hand movements to incorporate – and my favorite part – a spread on the artist that shows some of her techniques for creating the under sea textures – I particularly love the plastic netting (like you find around citrus at the grocery) gently pressed against the sides of the fish to create scales.

If you can find the board book edition, I think this would make an excellent baby gift – bright and colorful and singable. At it’s heart it’s a story about parents and babies, and the ways in which they live and play under the sea. The larger hardback edition (we’ve had ours for at least eight years) has the additional pieces I described above – it’s an excellent book for the 3-6 crowd, but older kids will still love examining the details within the pages – and you may find them bumping up their playdough game a bit.

Find these titles at your favorite local independent bookstore. Happy reading! 

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