Meadows in the Sea

05/25/2017 11:02 am ET Updated May 25, 2017

Picture books that are shared between a reader and very young children open new worlds for language, discussion and bonding. Seagrass Dreams, A Counting Book, by Kathleen M. Hanes is one of the most unusual picture books I’ve come across. First, it is nonfiction—it’s about the real world but it’s a part of the real world that is hidden from most people—the meadows of seagrass that form a habitat in the shallow areas of the oceans where sunlight reaches the ocean floor.

Second, Hanes’s language is poetic and sophisticated, challenging the listener who is at an age when he or she is open to hearing new words and new meanings. There are many studies that show that the achievement gap between children of educated parents who read to their children and less advantaged families with lower socioeconomic status is measurable by 18 months. Seagrass Dreams uses the simple interactivity of counting to ten as a way of introducing a strange and wonderful part of the world:

“One great barracuda floats over the seagrass meadow, scales flashing. His jaws open and close slowly, as he watches for the small fish that will be his dinner.”

The illustration of the barracuda, by Chloe Bonfield is as magically frightening as any dinosaur. The pictures for each number become increasingly interesting to count as Bonfield turns the accurate depictions into an interesting design. If I were reading this to a small child, I would also ask him or her to find the seagrass in each painting.

One of my favorite quotes of Rachel Carson comes from her book A Sense of Wonder:

"It is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused--a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration, or love -- then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate."

The creativity of Kathleen Hanes and Chloe Bonfield in Seagrass Dreams embody Carson’s suggestions. After introducing the facts of 10 amazing creatures of the seagrass habitat, Hanes increases the knowledge with a photo of each creature:

“The barracuda feeds on smaller fish and is an ambush predator, relying on stealth and great bursts of speed (up to 35 miles/56 kilometers per hour) to surprise its prey.”

So there is something for the adult reader as well as the child when it comes to discovering this beautiful, important and, yes, endangered habitat. Seagrass Dreams, A Counting Book will make a visit to an aquarium a more meaningful experience for both parent and child.

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