Explore the Wild Coast with Sam and Crystal
Explore the Wild Coast with Sam and Crystal
The trio zigzagged down, down, down through the kelp forest until they found themselves on the rocky bottom where they were surrounded by dark shadows. Crystal and Sam noticed many species of brown plant-like kelp, anchored to the rocky bottom by their surprisingly large holdfasts, similar to the way tree roots anchor trees to the ground. Among the rocks and tangle of kelp holdfasts were the homes of countless animals, including snails, limpets, barnacles, chitons, sea stars, crabs, sea cucumbers, sea anemones, sea urchins and worms.
“The kelp are not trees,” explained Grandfather. “They are sea weeds, also called algae, and their holdfast, stipes, floats and blades are very different from the roots, trunk, and leaves of a tree. But like a tree, the kelp plant depends on sunlight to make food in order to grow.”
The sculpins perched together on a rock, sitting on their large forward walking fins, viewing the forest floor. In full view, an army of hungry Red Sea Urchins invaded the stand of kelp forest. The urchins chewed and chewed with their chisel-like teeth at the holdfast of a nearby kelp until they chewed clear through it, causing the kelp to float away. (From Explore the Rocky Shore with Sam and Crystal).
This pair of attractive books takes young readers on an in-depth tour of a typical west coast seashore environment. Using omniscient viewpoint, the narrator relates the fictional adventures of Sam and Crystal who travel with Uncle Charlie and Aunt Kate on their seine boat to a remote coastal island home for spring break. In the first book, Explore the Wild Coast, the children are introduced by retired marine biologist, Aunt Kate, to the many marine creatures along the route to the sheltered cove where they will spend a week learning about the local ecosystems. Upon their arrival, they make fascinating discoveries in the Spray Zone and High Tide Zone along the shore. They meet Ada, a local Indigenous woman, who treats them to foods sourced from ingredients found in the area and to traditional stories about local creatures.
The second book, Explore the Rocky Shore, continues the adventures with a salmon fishing trip followed by the children’s explorations in the remaining tidal zones – Middle Tide Zone and Low Tide Zone. Since the tide remains too high during their visit for casual observations, they are magically transformed into sculpins and led by Grandfather Sculpin, an ancient one from the sea whom Indigenous elders respect for his wisdom about life at the seashore. They enjoy an underwater excursion with this “oldest and wisest of the sculpins” who has “a mind that can think like a fish and talk with people”. Sam and Crystal encounter more marine wonders and learn about their habitats and the interconnections in nature.
The quality and quantity of detail about the marine ecosystems attest to the author’s scholarly expertise. She offers thorough accounts of the most interesting aspects of the lives of each animal and plant Sam and Crystal find. For instance, readers may have some knowledge of why and how the Hermit Crab borrows an empty shell as it outgrows the current one, but they are less likely to know about the battles that take place if two crabs have designs on the same shell. Readers may be familiar with the variety of shapes and colors of shells but are perhaps unaware of how the Wrinkled Whelks drill into mussel shells to feed, and how the mussel egg cases open and close to protect the young ones. These moments of drama are precisely recounted in lively style and give an extra layer of excitement to these books. Along with the more common seashore creatures, like crabs, mussels, sea stars, and gulls, more unusual ones are examined: the Rock Louse, periwinkles, sea anemones, and sea slugs. A list of the organisms arranged in taxonomic categories is found on the last page of each volume.
Each subject is further brought to life through a series of carefully crafted and labelled sketches that run along the margins of the pages. These delicate drawings often include a magnified image of the smallest details. Some of the hand-printed captions are quite tiny to read; if you are inclined to skip them, you will miss amazing information. The illustrator has also contributed numerous full page paintings, many with a kaleidoscope of patterns and colors to show the vibrancy of seashore and undersea life. In each book, there is a list and diagram of Tidal Zone Organisms (extended to reflect the additional tide zones the kids explore in the second book—with a few changes which inadvertently make this a neat ‘spot the differences’ activity if you have both books).
While the vocabulary is mostly fine for the target audience, frequent long sentences will be handled better by sophisticated readers. Scientific terms are defined in context, and a pronunciation key is included on first use. In the first book, Aunt Kate’s science explanations tend toward a somewhat didactic tone; this delivery is not as obvious in the second book where Grandfather Sculpin is the instructor. It may be that the children are more actively involved with Grandfather during their magical explorations underwater, and the facts are presented in a stronger storytelling manner and with more exchanges of dialogue as the characters experience encounters and dangers together.
The abundant illustrations make these books highly enjoyable, especially since the presentation is fairly text-heavy. They are mostly well-integrated with that written content. In a couple of instances, though, the placement of the diagrams in Explore the Wild Coast with Sam and Crystal is not well-coordinated with text detail; e.g. on page 32, we read about the Rock Louse but see drawings of the periwinkle. Page 33 describes those periwinkles but shows drawings of limpets, which are described on page 34, where the drawings of Rock Louse appear. Also, the illustration of the Brooding Sea Star precedes its text details by a page. And one detail was slightly problematic: Sam declares he’s never seen Black Oystercatchers—a bird “conspicuous” all along the west coast—yet he lives in a small coastal fishing town. These, howeverr, are minor issues in otherwise engaging and absorbing books.
A major theme that emerges from all that the children and adults share throughout their seashore adventures is of the need to respect and care for the ocean environment and to understand the harmony among its inhabitants. These appealing, fact-rich books go a long way to enhancing that understanding for young readers. Both Explore the Wild Coast with Sam and Crystal and Explore the Rocky Shore with Sam and Crystal are ...
Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in British Columbia.