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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Far From Shore, written and illustrated by Sophie Webb. Houghton Mifflin, Thomas Allen & Son. 2011. $21.99 ages 9 and up

"Close to 1,600 bird species have been recorded in the tiny country of Ecuador. It is a bird lover's paradise with strange species everywhere. I see three favorites while bird watching: a colorful motmot, a laughing falcon, and a secretive ant shrike."

Well, it's lucky you are that I am not the writer of this book! I had to go and look up information on each of those three birds. I had not heard of any of them. That is the sheer delight and benefit of having people like Sophie Webb writing for our children.

About this fact-filled, beautifully designed new book, the author/artist says:

 "It was a long time in the making and at times I wondered if I would ever finish it. But it was also thoroughly enjoyable to make an excuse for myself to paint and write about all those fantastic creatures found in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, a part of the ocean I have come to love."

And love it she does, if this book has anything to say about it! She has proved before how adept she is at both observation and art. in two previous books, My Season with Penguins (Antarctica) and Looking for Seabirds (Alaska); and here she does the same while exploring the open ocean. It takes the same format; an illustrated journal that chronicles the four month journey. There are maps, carefully captioned diagrams, graphs, detailed drawings of the weather, life on ship and the abundance of ocean life that is there to see.

Sophie Webb is a field biologist and ornithologist; she includes much technical writing as well as her observations. The language used will appeal to middle grade readers and will help them understand all that goes on when such a voyage is undertaken to help scientists learn more about our world. Her illustrations add depth and excitement. She carefully explains much of the scientific data, how it is obtained and why it is necessary. The focus of this journey is the imperiled populations of dolphins. Sophie is there to count the seabirds, but she does not stop at that. There are wonderful illustrations of the skies, the ocean and many of the animals that they encounter:

"It's time to start looking for critters. It is ten minutes past sunrise and the light is good. We start to travel along a set course, what scientists call a transect. Soon after we start, Cornelia yells, "Dolphins!" All scanning stops and everyone focuses on Cornelia's sighting.
She swings the big eyes in the direction of the dolphins.
Using her hand-held radio, Cornelia calls the captain on the bridge deck below us, where the ship's steering controls are located. "Bridge, flying bridge--we have dolphins," she says."

Sophie is such an inspiration to her readers. Her perspective is real, frank and filled with the personal stories that make her amazing trip accessible to her audience. What an adventure! Thanks for taking us along, Ms. Webb.

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