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Back when my kids were the size of baby porpoises, I read them a book about the intertidal zone, complete with illustrations of all the cool characters that call the extreme ecosystem home. They were fascinated by the star-shaped creatures, animals that look like plants, and “rocks” (barnacles) that are actually alive. They demanded that we go to our local intertidal immediately so they could see this magical world for themselves. Today, several years later, my not-so-little-ones continue to enjoy books about and visits to marine environments—and they’ve finally stopped poking the anemones.
It’s more important now than ever to encourage children to get into books and get outside. Several recent studies have found that children’s reading skills are down and their rates of mental illness are up, and that they’re spending less time reading and exploring nature and more time on devices. The pandemic has made this all worse. And while research has linked excess screen time to mental health issues among children, it has also linked reading and spending time in nature to improved mental health. The good news is you can help inspire the next generation to read and get outside by introducing them to coastal-themed books. Here are 13 new titles to get you started.
The Ugly Place
Text by Laura Deal
Illustrations by Emma Pedersen
28 pp. Inhabit Media
One of the most valuable things you can teach the little ones in your life is how to work through their big feelings. And one effective way to calm down and de-stress is to head into nature. In The Ugly Place, a picture book for readers ages four to eight, we meet an Arctic child who has clearly figured this out. When things are “ugly and cloudy” in their head, they go straight to their “ugly place”—the mudflats. After they splash and thrash through the tide pools, something shifts. The child stands still, closes their eyes, and inhales and exhales with the rhythm of the waves. When they open their eyes, “it happens”—they feel better. Moody illustrations go from gray tones and frowns to a bright palette and smiles, emphasizing the child’s transition. The Ugly Place is a relatable and reassuring read that serves as a timely reminder that nature is healing and the tide will always turn.
Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii
Text by Sara Florence Davidson and Robert Davidson
Illustrations by Janine Gibbons
40 pp. HighWater Press
Another thing that’s good for a child’s soul is spending time with their elders. In Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii, a boy heads out on the water with his grandfather and learns much more than how to fish. To write this story, author Sara Florence Davidson spoke with her father, Haida artist Robert Davidson, about his childhood experiences with his grandfather, or tsinii [chin-ee], and used that information to create an imagined day. On this day, the boy learns how to read the weather, row with the tide, and show respect for animals. Illustrator Janine Gibbons’s beautiful, bold paintings articulate the mood and complement Davidson’s evocative prose, giving readers the opportunity to both see and feel what it’s like out on the dinghy tsinii built by hand. Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii is a touching tale that tells of the tender relationship between grandfather and grandson and shows how traditional knowledge is passed down through generations.
West Coast Wild ABC
Text by Deborah Hodge
Illustrations by Karen Reczuch
26 pp. Groundwood
Kids are never too young to start learning about coastal creatures and ecosystems. In West Coast Wild ABC, a baby board book, ancient trees tower, bears amble, and cougars prowl across the pages. From the rainforest to the coastline to the deep blue sea, readers young and old will meet creatures familiar and new. X is for Xiphister, for instance, the scientific name for the eel-like rocky prickleback. Simple illustrations in soothing hues capture the natural beauty of the Pacific west coast. Additionally, big, bold upper- and lowercase letters mark the corner of each page, encouraging babies to start recognizing letters. West Coast Wild ABC is a delightful book that introduces babies to both the ABCs and the wonders of a vibrant coastal ecosystem.
West Coast Wild at Low Tide
Text by Deborah Hodge
Illustrations by Karen Reczuch
36 pp. Groundwood
Children can continue to learn about the west coast in West Coast Wild at Low Tide, which is by the same writer/illustrator duo as West Coast Wild ABC. This picture book for preschool to Grade 1 students, the third in a series, takes readers to the intertidal zone, where land and sea meet. Here, children meet a rainbow of characters, including the giant red sea cucumber, the giant green anemone, the blueband hermit crab, and the purple sea urchin. Author Deborah Hodge shares cool facts about the 14 featured creatures that are sure to captivate kids. For instance, the sea lemon gives off a fruity scent, the ochre sea star can grow back an arm, and the tidepool sculpin changes its color to blend in with its surroundings. Meanwhile, illustrator Karen Reczuch beautifully depicts the diverse species in their natural environment. West Coast Wild at Low Tide is an entertaining and educational book that will inspire kids to head out for a beach walk at low tide and meet the intertidal inhabitants in person.
Granville Island ABC
Text by Alison Kelly
Illustrations by Linda Sharp
64 pp. Heritage House
In Vancouver, British Columbia, one of the most entertaining places to spend a family day is on Granville Island. The popular arts and culture destination is home to a public market, a kids’ market, a water park, a playground, and much more. Granville Island ABC, a picture book for children in elementary school, takes readers on an alphabetical tour of the island, which is actually a peninsula. Readers meet the locals—from buskers to gulls—and see the landmarks, including the iconic houseboats, bridges, and the grassy mound that was once a pile of waste. Author Alison Kelly introduces each “letter-sake” with a clever rhyme followed by a paragraph packed with fascinating facts, while Linda Sharp shares the spirit of Granville Island through a series of colorful scenes. Granville Island ABC is a feast for the senses that acts as the perfect guide for visiting the island in person or through the pages.
Text by Teoni Spathelfer
Illustrations by Natassia Davies
32 pp. Heritage House
Bullying, which is often rooted in racism, can have devastating effects on children. In Abalone Woman, a picture book for kids in elementary school, Little Wolf lies in bed thinking about the racism she and her mother, a residential school survivor, have experienced. She then has a vivid dream in which she stands up for sea serpents that are being attacked by scared villagers simply because they look different. The Creator later rewards Little Wolf by giving the tips of her long hair a shimmering glow, just like the inside of an abalone shell, while the villagers are left scarred. Little Wolf awakens and heads into her daughter’s class to talk about racism, drawing on the lessons from her dream. Emotive illustrations articulate Little Wolf’s inner and outer beauty and depict the drama of her dream sequence. Abalone Woman is a magical tale with an important message: when we only see differences in people, we may become fearful and hurt them, in turn hurting ourselves. When we see the humanity in others, we can learn from each other and enrich each other’s lives.
Ben the Sea Lion
Text and illustrations by Roy Henry Vickers
32 pp. Harbour Publishing
If the kids in your life need some inspiration to head outside, Ben the Sea Lion is the book for them. Renowned Tsimshian artist and storyteller Roy Henry Vickers shares one of his childhood stories and 16 of his original illustrations in this charming book for readers ages three to five. When Vickers was a boy in the village of Kitkatla, on British Columbia’s west coast, his uncle Johnny caught a baby Steller sea lion in his fishing net. Naturally, Roy, along with his cousin and brother, begged to keep the cute creature—just until it was strong enough to swim on its own. Much hilarity ensued as the kids tried to feed, diaper, walk, and play with the animal they named Ben, short for teeben, the Tsimshian word for sea lion. (As Vickers is careful to point out in an author’s note, today you can’t keep wild animals as pets and must contact a wildlife rescue organization for advice.) Eventually, it was time for the boys to say goodbye to Ben, which didn’t exactly go as planned. Ben the Sea Lion is a beautifully illustrated, entertaining read about the joys of growing up in a coastal village and the bond between people and animals.
Good Eating: The Short Life of Krill
Text by Matt Lilley
Illustrations by Dan Tavis
36 pp. Tilbury House Publishers
Krill may be tiny, but they’re the foundation of the Southern Ocean food chain. In Good Eating: The Short Life of Krill, a picture book for elementary school kids, readers get to know the keystone species by following one through its brief but eventful life. First, we watch it metamorphose like a science fiction character, from egg to six-armed oval with pointy spines to something that looks like a cross between a bug and a shrimp. Next, we watch it do what it does best: eat and try to avoid being eaten. The text is both funny and scientifically accurate—a feat in and of itself. Bold illustrations in dark and vibrant hues add to the sci-fi vibe and bring our leading krill to life with bug eyes, a range of expressions, and little legs that go, go, go. Good Eating: The Short Life of Krill is a fun and fascinating introduction to one of the ocean’s cutest characters.
Text by Janet Lawler
Illustrations by Timothy Basil Ering
32 pp. Candlewick Press
From a teeny-tiny ocean dweller to a great big giant. In Walrus Song, a picture book for kids in kindergarten through grade three, we spend some time with a sea beast as he eats, plays, fights, and sings in his icy home. Author Janet Lawler tells the story in rhythmic, rhyming verses sure to captivate a young audience: “Twirling, whirling, / flippers swirling, / warm within his fat-lined coat, / solid, massive like a boat.” The highlight of the book, however, has to be the walrus song itself, which spans four pages and includes verses like “Eeeya, EEYAAA / Snuff, SUNNUFF!” Giggles are sure to ensue. Timothy Basil Ering’s acrylic paint and charcoal illustrations also capture the bewhiskered and tusked marine mammal in all his flopping, plopping, and singing glory. Walrus Song is a poetic tribute to a marvelous marine mammal with a big voice.
I’s the B’y
Illustrations by Lauren Soloy
48 pp. Greystone Books
Nothing connects and reveals a community quite like a song. I’s the B’y is a visual rendition of its namesake folk song from Newfoundland. Illustrator Lauren Soloy brings the beloved decades-old ditty to life with a colorful chorus line of singing, dancing, and paddling animals and Newfies of all ages. This book is perfect for reading or singing to children ages three to eight, and comes complete with sheet music should you wish to pick up an instrument yourself. (Researchers have found that music is another thing that boosts kids’ mental health.) I’s the B’y is an exuberant book that captures and celebrates the character and culture of Newfoundland and is sure to get you and the little ones tapping your feet.
Old Wood Boat
Text and illustrations by Nikki McClure
48 pp. Candlewick Press
If you’ve ever had a boat, you know how it can become a member of the family. (RIP Vera the Voyager.) And, just like any loved one, it needs care and attention to thrive. In Old Wood Boat, we meet an aging sailboat who’s bobbing on a sea of blackberry bushes with a crew of raccoons because her person is too old to take care of her. But then a new family takes her home, fixes her up, and gets her back on the water—where she belongs. By personifying the boat (“She remembers islands and a sea of green.”), author/illustrator Nikki McClure gets readers rooting for the old girl’s recovery. McClure’s trademark hand-cut paper illustrations in a simple palette of blues and yellows depict in detail the boat’s reincarnation and her new family’s first adventure. Old Wood Boat is a charming tale about the joy and satisfaction of bringing something back to life and the fun and excitement of adventuring with your family.
Salmon: Swimming for Survival
Text by Rowena Rae
112 pp. Orca Book Publishers
Salmon are inspiring. As author Rowena Rae writes in Salmon: Swimming for Survival, the fish “keeps coming back to its birthplace, keeps swimming upstream, keeps fighting for the next generation.” A great message for youth in these trying times. In this chapter book for children ages nine to 12, which is part of the Orca Wild series, Rae draws on her experience as a biologist to introduce readers to the wild world of salmon. She covers their biology, their cultural and economic impact, their essential role in ecosystems, and the challenges they face. Kids will be drawn in by action-packed photos, fun facts, and profiles of people who are passionate about salmon. By the end of the book, young readers will be keen to protect their new fishy friends, and Rae has a list of ideas for how they can do just that. Salmon: Swimming for Survival is a comprehensive introduction to an iconic species that, as Rae says, has captured our hearts and filled our bellies for thousands of years.
Text by Loveday Trinick
Illustrations by Teagan White
112 pp. Candlewick Press
Children who grow up spending lots of time in nature will naturally develop an interest in learning more about it. Oceanarium, an oversized book for kids ages eight to 11, will satisfy their desire to dive deeper into the ocean. From the sandy shores to the deep seas, this compendium, which is part of the Welcome to the Museum series, introduces curious children to a collection of more than 200 awe-inspiring creatures that call the ocean home. Through intriguing facts from marine biologist Loveday Trinick and detailed illustrations from Teagan White, readers will gain a deeper appreciation for the stunning diversity in the sea and the need to protect it. Oceanarium is a feast for the mind and the eyes that reveals the secrets of the seas and is sure to inspire kids to keep learning and exploring.