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A detail of the cover illustration by Ashley Barron for My Ocean is Blue. Cover image courtesy of Kids Can Press

A New Wave of Coastal Kids’ Books to Dive into This Summer

This season’s selections feature superstar killer whales and some long-overdue diverse characters.

Authored by

by Raina Delisle

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After months of school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many kids are now facing summer with reduced recreational activities. You’re going to have to get creative to keep the little ones in your life active and engaged. While the pandemic has slowed the publishing industry, fortunately there’s still a strong wave of new coastal kids’ books. Not only are these titles perfect for reading on a beach blanket, they also offer a plethora of ideas for fun activities such as cleaning up the beach, watching the salmon spawn, and writing messages in the sand.


cover of Big Whales, Small World Big Whales, Small World
Text by Mark Leiren-Young
24 pp. Orca Book Publishers

From blue whales that are bigger than dinosaurs to tiny vaquitas that swim close to shores, you and your little reading buddy will learn fun facts about the whales of the world in Big Whales, Small World. This baby board book by writer, filmmaker, and killer whale activist Mark Leiren-Young features compelling photos of cetaceans, often with their calves in tow. Rhyming couplets make for a melodic bedtime read, but little ones might want to stay up late when they hear that “all whales keep swimming when it’s time to sleep.”


cover of Orcas of the Salish SeaOrcas of the Salish Sea
Text by Mark Leiren-Young
32 pp. Orca Book Publishers

Meet the most famous whales in the world in Orcas of the Salish Sea, another book by Leiren-Young, one of the whales’ most passionate advocates. This book introduces readers—preschoolers-plus—to the southern resident killer whales, which spend part of the year off the coast of British Columbia and Washington in what’s known as the Salish Sea. Through the swashbuckling story of superstar southern resident Onyx and action-packed photos of the powerful predators, Leiren-Young takes readers on a journey that explores how the animals hunt, play, build communities, and are impacted by human actions. The book ends on a hopeful note sure to inspire kids to do what they can to help protect Onyx and his sidekicks: “If enough people help, there will always be orcas.”


cover of The Spirit of Springer: The Real-Life Rescue of an Orphaned OrcaThe Spirit of Springer: The Real-Life Rescue of an Orphaned Orca
Text by Amanda Abler
Illustrations by Levi Hastings
48 pp. Sasquatch Books

Get to know another renowned killer whale and the people who saved her in The Spirit of Springer: The Real-Life Rescue of an Orphaned Orca. This nonfiction picture book tells the gripping tale of northern resident killer whale Springer, who was discovered drifting alone in Puget Sound, off the coast of Washington, in 2002. The suspenseful story dives into how scientists worked together to capture the calf, nurse her back to health, release her, and reunite her with her family, all while being cheered on by whale lovers around the world. Detailed text complete with timestamps and illustrations in a graphic novel style add to the urgency of the narrative. It’s a touching and inspiring story about the connection between humans and cetaceans, how these great animals need love and affection just like us, and how we can make a positive difference in the lives of our fellow beings. The story has a happy ending, too: Springer went on to have two babies of her own in the wild.


cover of The World of WhalesThe World of Whales
Text by Darcy Dobell
Illustrations by Becky Thorns
74 pp. Gestalten

Get to know all the giants of the ocean in The World of Whales, a compelling and comprehensive fact book for kids ages five to seven. This deep dive introduces readers to the different species of whales and explores how they communicate, navigate, socialize, survive, and thrive in their underwater world. Readers will learn about the humpbacks that made a bestselling music album, the baby belugas that fade from gray to white as they grow older, and the bowheads that can live up to 200 years. The book also traces our shared history with the majestic mammals, from hunting them and turning them into commodities, to trying to save them and turning them into causes célèbres. Packed with kid-friendly facts and detailed illustrations, this book is sure to keep curious kids occupied for hours.


cover of West Coast Wild BabiesWest Coast Wild Babies
Text by Deborah Hodge
Illustrations by Karen Reczuch
36 pp. Groundwood

Come explore the pristine Pacific west coast and see what new life is stirring in West Coast Wild Babies, an enchanting picture book for children ages three to seven. From deep in the waters to high in the trees, this book introduces readers to babies big and small. Realistic illustrations in muted tones bring the animals to life and the insightful text illuminates sweet facts about the babies that grow up in this wilderness, including the famous (bears and killer whales) and the unfamiliar (pelagic cormorants and black oystercatchers).


cover of Run, Salmon, RunRun Salmon Run
Text by Bobs and Lolo
Illustrations by Lori Joy Smith
34 pp. Page Two Books

You can almost hear celebrated children’s entertainers Bobs and Lolo singing through the pages of Run Salmon Run. In lively, lyrical prose, the singer-songwriters tell the story of the Pacific salmon, from stream to sea and through the life cycle. Science becomes song with lines such as “Dart smolt dart. New markings like art. The salmon story circles. Dart smolt dart.” Bright and cheerful illustrations complement the text and are perfectly on-brand for the delightful duo of Bobs and Lolo.


cover of Sea Otters: A Survival StorySea Otters: A Survival Story
Text by Isabelle Groc
128 pp. Orca Book Publishers

It’s hard to resist the cute furry faces of sea otters, which author Isabelle Groc calls “the most adorable creatures in the world.” In her book Sea Otters: A Survival Story, readers learn that these plush toy–like marine mammals are much more than pretty faces. They’re fierce survivors that have rebounded after being hunted to near extinction and are now making a mark on every ecosystem they inhabit. Through compelling personal anecdotes and insightful interviews with scientists, Groc tells the epic tale of the sea otters and introduces readers ages nine to 12 to important ecological concepts such as keystone species, indicator species, and trophic cascade. Kids will delight in relatable otter facts such as how they eat 25 percent of their body weight every day, wrap themselves in kelp before bedtime, and hold on tight to their favorite stones, sometimes tucking them in their armpits. Dozens of photos will have kids oohing and aahing, especially the ones of the mamas floating on their backs with their babies on their bellies.


cover of My Ocean is BlueMy Ocean is Blue
Text by Darren Lebeuf
Illustrations by Ashley Barron
32 pp. Kids Can Press

Kids and adults alike will gain a new appreciation for the ocean after reading My Ocean is Blue, an effervescent picture book that follows an observant little girl as she spends a day at the seaside taking in all the sights, sounds, smells, and shapes. In rhythmic prose, she describes her ocean in intricate detail: “My ocean is dotted and spiraled and wavy and straight. … My ocean splashes and crashes and echoes and squawks.” The vibrant cut-paper collage illustrations bring her observations and emotions to life as she contemplates both the chaos and the calm of the “deep blue, quiet blue, loud blue, endless blue.” The girl has a physical difference and is shown walking with crutches, but that doesn’t stop her from jumping off the dock, burying her legs in the sand, and skipping rocks. It’s rare to see children with physical and mental difference depicted in books—yet another reason to add this inspiring book for kids ages three to seven to your library.


cover of Swashby and the SeaSwashby and the Sea
Text by Beth Ferry
Illustrations by Juana Martinez-Neal
32 pp. HMH Books

Captain Swashby is enjoying his retirement in a small house on a secluded beach as close to the sea as can be when some unexpected neighbors settle in next door in Swashby and the Sea. The surly and salty fella is less than impressed with the spirited little girl and her sprightly granny who disrupt his solitude, so he vows to drive them off the beach. His method: writing passive-aggressive messages in the sand. Hilariously, the ocean has other plans and messes with his messages as the waves wash in. “No trespassing” becomes “sing,” for instance, which is exactly what the little girl does. Eventually, Swashby’s unwelcome visitors become his unlikely friends, showing that it’s always worth giving people a chance and life is richer when you share it with others. Whimsical illustrations in beachy tones capture the moods of the characters and the charm of the setting. The little girl and her granny add some much-needed diversity to kids’ books.


cover of What MattersWhat Matters
Text by Alison Hughes
Illustrations by Holly Hatam
32 pp. Orca Book Publishers

Kids won’t walk past litter again after reading What Matters, a delightful picture book for preschoolers that shows the ripple effects of pro-environmental behavior and how what happens on land can affect the ocean. When a boy picks up a soda can from the grass and tosses it in a recycling bin, he stops a chain reaction of could-have-beens, from forcing a snail to take a long detour to saddling the ocean with one more piece of rubbish. Oblivious to the impact of his good deed, the boy goes on with his day, playing in the stream he helped flow more freely and building sandcastles on the beach he helped keep clean. This simple story has a strong message about how everything is interconnected and everyone can make a difference. Earth-tone illustrations with photographic elements reinforce the message that nature is beautiful and kids can help keep it that way.


cover of Ocean! Waves for AllOcean! Waves for All
Text by Stacy McAnulty
Illustrations by David Litchfield
40 pp. Henry Holt and Co.

Meet Ocean—the totally tubular dude who flows across the planet. In Ocean! Waves for All, the ocean is personified and he’s, like, a super-rad surfer bro. Chaa! In this excellent autobiography for kids ages four to eight, Ocean tells us all about how he came to be (“Most of my salty H₂O formed as baby Earth began chillin’.”), how he’s a boss who holds some righteous records (home to Earth’s biggest animal, longest mountain range, and largest living structure), and how he’s the ultimate superhighway that delivers everything you desire (surfboards included). Ocean’s easy smile and kind eyes peek through trippy illustrations in a kaleidoscope of colors, helping kids connect with this cool character. So, when Ocean shares some sad news—he’s facing a major wipeout due to pollution, overfishing, and climate change—he can count on kids to help him find that sweet balance again.

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Cite this Article:

Cite this Article: Raina Delisle “A New Wave of Coastal Kids’ Books to Dive into This Summer,” Hakai Magazine, Jul 2, 2020, accessed July 19th, 2024, https://hakaimagazine.com/features/a-new-wave-of-coastal-kids-books-to-dive-into-this-summer/.


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