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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ocean Sunlight, by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm. Scholastic, 2012. $20.99 ages 5 and up

"Animals - yes, animals like YOU! - eat the plants, or you eat other animals that have eaten plants. You are links in food chains - the chains of life. And as you eat, you break apart the sugar from the plants - KRAK! -and use its energy - MY energy! - to live. You breathe out carbon dioxide, and the plants pull it back in."

This is the second collaboration for Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm, and I remain in awe of the way they make this dense scientific information accessible for young readers - and for old ones! I think it requires real talent to take something scientific that you are so knowledgeable about, and make it live for your readers. That is exactly what this talented duo does!

The idea of light filtering through water to grow tiny plants that mark the beginning of a very grand and complicated food chain is complicated for most of us; yet, this book makes it fairly easy to comprehend. Light does affect everything that happens in the ocean, even the deepest deeps!

The fact that Molly Bang can create artwork (albeit beautiful and blue) that helps to make sense of the text for young readers is testament to the skill of both writer and artist. Ms. Bang creates visual images that help us understand the scientific principles, using brilliant shiny yellow to represent the sun that sustains all life. She employs a yellow outline to show every plant or animal that absorbs sunlight. As well as that, she uses other colors to boost our understanding:

"The illustrations in this book show oxygen atoms as white dots, carbon atoms as black dots, and hydrogen atoms as blue dots."

That really helps to process what is happening during photosynthesis. There are many details included, and the book is impeccably designed to lessen any confusion. Once the sun's light can no longer penetrate the thin top layer of the water, the gorgeous blues and greens give way to the deep grays and blacks of the depths. The explanation of how phytoplankton moves from the top of the ocean to the deeps and back again is clear and shown beautifully in the swirling artwork.

The sun does the speaking here; that ensures that the telling is more personal. Solar energy is a complex scientific study. I walk away from reading this book with a better understanding of how the sun impacts our oceans and all life. It is a book that I will read again; and I suspect I will be even more knowledgeable the second time around.

In Notes About the Book, the authors include additional information for all readers:

"When one living thing eats another, it becomes a link in a food chain. Plants are the first links in (almost!) every food chain because they do not rely on other organisms for food. They make their own food, sugar, through photosynthesis. Plants turn some of the sugar into proteins, fats, and other molecules that become food for the animals that eat the plants."

As has been done in their previous books about the sun, Living Sunlight and My Light, our comprehension of the role it plays in all life on earth is heightened. Ocean Sunlight keeps the celebration going!

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