Thursday, July 12, 2007

Into the Sea Once More

Regular readers of my blog will have to bear with me while I await the return of my computer--that is, if the hard drive can be saved...or at least until I get the laptop I had been planning to buy this summer and have a word processor at my disposal once again. I have found it difficult writing drafts of my posts in longhand. Can't cut and past. I'm going CRAZY!!!

Nonetheless, here is a review of another sea-themed book for you. This one is a collection of twenty-one poems about creatures that dwell in the ocean--from moon snails, barnacles, and crayfish to marlins, manatees, and spiny lobsters.

Poems & Paintings by Kurt Cyrus
Harcourt, 2005

In Hotel Deep, we follow the journey of a lone sardine separated from its school as it encounters different sea creatures, evades the clutches of predators, and eventually is reunited with its fellow sardines. The untitled poems float on a background of luminous oil paintings. The realistic illustrations give readers glimpses of a beautiful--and at times dangerous--underwater world.

In some poems the text is printed vertically, in one it curves on swaying ribbons of seaweed, in another it encircles an inflated porcupine fish. Because of the textual arrangement...and because the "teller" of the poems changes at times from the voice of a third person narrator to that of one of the denizens of the deep, I recommend this book be read aloud to a child--at least the first time around.

About the story/poems: A marlin attacks a school of sardines. The sardines swivel around and go into a spin/Then scatter like sparks/when the hunter swoops in./A quicksilver blizzard! One sardine is left behind as the rest of the school swims away. The sardine goes off in search of its lost family. Along the way, it meets up with all manner of sea creatures--including anglerfish, a wentletrap, mackerel, an octopus, sea anemones, and a scary looking animal called a deep-sea swallower.

Here is an excerpt in which a stonefish, camouflaged to look like an undersea rock, speaks to the sardine and tries to entice it to come closer:

I'm a stone. A simple stone,

Overgrown with crust and weed.

You can see I'm just a stone.

Not a stonefish. No, indeed!

Just a random chunk of rubble

At the bottom of the sea.

I'm as harmless as a bubble

Who could be afraid of me?

Trust your eyes. I'm just a stone.

Come in closer. Then you'll see.

Cyrus's art is stunning! The two-page spreads captivate the eyes with their color, use of light, and composition. In one of my favorite illustrations, iridescent fish shimmer in dark blue water like stars in a winter sky. The poem that accompanies this illustration begins:

Silent night. Deepest night.

Tiny lights, like stars in motion,

Twinkle in and out of sight.

Has the sky become the ocean?

I have one small criticsm of the book: I wish the author had labeled the different sea creatures in small text on each page. At the end of the book, he does include a page with very small sections from all of the llustrations in which he labels the animals. But I found it quite confusing because the sections are so small and they're not arranged in the same order in which they appear in the book. That aside--I think Hotel Deep would be a fine book of poems to share with any child who has a keen interest in the ocean or to read aloud to children in a classroom during a unit of study of marine science.

Click here to view three of the illustrations from this book.

Awards for Hotel Deep: John Burroughs List of Nature Books for Young Readers, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award, Skipping Stones Honor Award, Society of School Librarians International (SSLI) Honor Book

Other reviews of Hotel Deep can be found at Wordy Girls and Yellapalooza.


Tricia said...

Hi Elaine,
I'm finally catching up on my blog reading. This sounds like a lovely book of poems. I can't wait to get a look at the artwork. Thanks so much for reviewing this one.
I hope you are well.

Elaine Magliaro said...


Hope you get some fresh air this weekend. I am well. I hope my hard drive won't kick the bucket while it's away from home. I hope the experts can retrieve all my files.

I really do like Cyrus's art in HOTEL DEEP.

Anonymous said...

Hi Elaine, Thanks for linking to my review of this book, too. This is probably one of my top 3 children's poetry books *ever.* I love everything about it, and the thing I most admire are the unusual rhythms of the poems.

Hope your computer woes are over!

Elaine Magliaro said...


I bought this book months ago...but hadn't taken time to read all the poems and study Cyrus's beautiful illustrations. I have so many poetry books I sometimes forget about some of the new ones I've put on the shelf after giving them a cursory look. It's a neat book...for sure.

MotherReader said...

Oh, I love this book. So beautiful.