BOOK REVIEW: Charley Harper’s What’s in the Coral Reef? A Nature Discovery Book

In the fall of 2013, I posted about the first two in a new series of children’s books from the Portland-based Pomegranate Books: Charley Harper’s What’s in the Woods? and Charley Harper’s What’s in the Rain Forest? Both combined beautiful modernist paintings of birds and other wildlife by Charley Harper (1922-2007) with lyrical and rhyming text from Zoe Burke. I’d already been a fan of Harper’s work, and was excited to learn that it would be used in books to teach kids about nature. They are splendid little hardcover books.

A third book has just been published:

In Charley Harper’s What’s in the Coral Reef? A Nature Discovery Book, we are treated to a rainbow of fish, coral, and other sea life as depicted in Harper’s painting, The Coral Reef. “Have you ever seen a fish / As close as close can be?” is how it begins, taking us from six species of Angelfish (“Two little Angels, not full grown / Are darting left and right. / And See? Those Rock Beauty Angelfish / Have eyes that shimmer bright.”) to parrotfish that “don’t squawk” and “Their friend the Turtle’s pointed beak” that “reminds me of a hawk!”

Burke’s words describe the many colors to be found in a coral reef, and clarifies that the names given to many fish are simply descriptive (“And you’ll never hear the Cornetfish / Play a tune or musical score.”).


Motion is important, too – a barracuda scares us away, a Fairy Basslet scoots around, and Blue Tangs glide past. In all, there are fifty animals that are featured in these pages!


A fold-out page at the end of the book shows the painting The Coral Reef in its entirety, while a guide gives you the name of every fish and creature. Charley Harper’s What’s in the Coral Reef? is a delightful continuation of a great series of books about nature for kids.

Pomegranate Books also sent me another recent title in their children’s catalog: BirdWingFeather, by Portland artist Siri Schillios. Schillios shares her painting of a dozen birds – with the whole painting on the right side, and nine close-ups from the painting on the left. The point is to look at all the beautiful detail in the art! This is an image-driven book (no words), and anyone interested in birds or just nature in general would probably love flipping through its pages and reveling in the colorful winged creatures.


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