Down Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea
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written and illus. by Steve Jenkins
Wondering where to find—or where not to go in order to avoid—the giant
tube worms on our cover? Steve Jenkins, author-illustrator of such
creative nature books as Actual Size
(BCCB 5/04), not only tells, he shows, in this inventive look at the
ocean’s tiers of habitation.
Other books have looked at the denizens of the sea, and a few
(especially Sandra Markle’s Down,
Down, Down in the Ocean) have even taken a stab at describing
the various levels of ecosystems in the briny deep. Jenkins, though,
has found a particularly illuminating approach to explaining the
majestic depths of the ocean and the different populations at its
various levels. Each spread features a brief overview of the
characteristics of that depth and a few sample residents, while a
vertical bar (shaded from blue to black to represent the decreasing
degree of sunlight available as one descends) on the right border
indicates the depth (in feet and meters) and temperature (in Fahrenheit
and centigrade) of the ocean level that hosts the featured population.
The levels start with “The Surface,” with its flying fish and dolphins
gamboling under blue skies, then proceed through “The Sunlit Zone”
(here explored from about ten feet to 300 feet below the surface),
where all manner of marine life dwells. Then we’re off to “The Twilight
Zone,” (about 600 feet to roughly 1600 feet down), where no plants grow
and bioluminescence is the norm, then down to “The Dark Zone” (3,300
feet down to the bottom), where no sunlight reaches and the inhabitants
look increasingly bizarre to us land-dwellers. Finally there are
various ocean floor ecosystems, such as the hydrothermal vents that
provide energy for our cover worms, and the very lowest spot in the
ocean, “The Marianas Trench,” at 35,838 feet below sea level and 36º F.
The result is a fascinating revelation of the fact that most of the sea
residents with which we are familiar are shockingly shallow,
superficial even, in their
tendency to hang around in the first 100 feet or so, while below them
yawn seven miles of darkness and otherworldly habitation. The watery
marine backgrounds start with limpid blue and progress to inky black as
the levels grow deeper, which is both an accurate representation of the
dimming of light and also an effective reminder of the descent (the
largely black progress bar on the right is a dramatic indication of how
startlingly little of the ocean receives any sunlight at all). While
readers probably expect the suave elegance displayed by the lithe and
hydrodynamic fish and the deep-sea fearsomeness of the giant squid,
they’ll be intrigued by the less-common figures and gratified by the
tidy identifiers attached to each critter—how else to recognize the
lanky siphophore, which resembles a constellation bedecked with
streamers, or the deep-sea jellyfish, which looks like something that
would have brought in the Martians in The War of the Worlds?
cut-paper art glories in the distinct articulation of scales, plates,
and spines, and its compositions are helpfully illustrative but rarely
static, with creatures sometimes sculling open-mouthed toward the
viewer or locked in combat with one another. The text operates on the
theory that we’re viewing the ocean from within our vessel (depicted in
the final spread); this conceit allows for additional information, such
as the fact
that ascent from the bottom will take two hours, and for clever
treatment of the ocean’s darkest reaches (a nifty spread shows what the
biolumescent animals of the previous spread would look like without our
illuminating light). Five concluding pages offer thumbnail descriptions
of the animals, broken down spread by spread, and a helpful visual to
A must for any geography or natural history collection, this will be a
great preparation for an aquarium visit or any discussion of ecology.
More than that,
however, it manages to convey the fact that most of our world is very,
very different from what we experience, and that there may be nothing
so strange and wonderful as our own planetary home.
Deborah Stevenson, Editor
Cover image by Steve Jenkins from Down
Down Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea ©2009.
Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.
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This page was last updated on July 1, 2009.