BOOK: The Specific Ocean

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Kyo Maclear, The Specific Ocean (Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press, 2015), 32 pp. Illustrated by Katty Maurey.

Publisher’s description In this gently told picture book, a young girl is unhappy about having to leave the city for a family vacation on the Pacific Ocean (which she used to call the Specific Ocean). As the days pass, however, she is drawn to spend more time in and near the water, feeling moved by its beauty and rhythms. “The ocean does its own thing, rolling backward and forward. Wash, swash, splush, hush. There is no late or hurry or racing in ocean time.” By the end of the vacation, the girl has grown to love the ocean and now feels reluctant to leave it behind. But as she soon realizes, it doesn’t ever have to leave her. “Calm. Blue. Ruffled. Gray. Playful. Green. Mysterious. Black. Foggy. Silver. Roaring. White. No matter where I am, this specific ocean will be with me.”Author Kyo Maclear has written a sweet and evocative love story about the magic and wonder of the ocean. Katty Maurey’s softly drawn illustrations maintain the poetic feel of the text, while bringing to life the imagery of the seaside, adding a wonderful richness to the pages. This book would make a lyrical read-aloud that could lull young children into an appreciation for the peaceful joy found in nature. It also presents a compelling emotional component to why conserving our natural spaces is important, and would work well for any classroom science discussion on the environment or on the ocean as a habitat and ecosystem.

The Specific Ocean is another favorite in recent books that show how fun spending time outside really can be for kids. For some, the idea of going on a family vacation that does not include a theme park or some kind of flashy screens is scary. The young girl here has created for herself a daily moping schedule (while her older brother happily heads to the beach), which includes time allotted for watching dust, playing chess alone, pulling loose thread, and staring at the wall. Horrible vacation, indeed! But she soon has a revelation, and her brother has to catch up with her on the way to the ocean. This “specific ocean” becomes a magical place for her, and she becomes reluctant to head home. While the author titles her book The Specific Ocean because of how some kids might say “Pacific,” the word “specific” for me gives the sense that there is no single experience of a place in nature. Everyone will experience a beach or forest differently from others, and that experience is specific to them on an individual level.

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