Thursday, May 19, 2011

New Book from Sophie Webb

Far from Shore: Chronicles of an Open Ocean Voyage
Written and illustrated by Sophie Webb
Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
June 13, 2011

"My name is Sophie. I work as a field biologist and naturalist specializing in birds. Tomorrow I am going on a four-month journey to the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP) to study seabirds and marine mammals."

So begins the latest children's book from Sophie Webb, biologist, artist, and author. I wrote about her first book, My Season with Penguins, in JCL because it is such an excellent example of well written nonfiction for children, documenting one of Webb's ornithological trips. I believe that writing about a lived-through experience from the perspective of a biologist with the ability to write well and illustrate the topic is a combination that transcends excellence in any one area. Far from Shore is another book of this caliber.

The purpose of the trip to the ETP "is to discover what has happened to dolphin populations that have been affected by the tuna purse-seine fishery" (p. 5). The voyage is documented in a journal format and illustrated with pictures, graphs, and diagrams of the boat, fish, instruments, maps and more.

Throughout, Webb captures the feel of both the scientific aspects of the trip and the excitement of embarking on such an adventure. For example, in the section titled, A Day Offshore, Webb writes,

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.

This description captures both the scientific nature of the trip, using such terminology as "transect" but also the exhilaration of actually sighting dolphins, the purpose of the trip! In the way, as with any good book, Webb makes the reader feel like they are along for the journey.

Far from Shore is an excellent addition to any intermediate elementary library.

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