Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Behind the Books: Looking Forward, Looking Back

Twenty years ago, my very first book was published. Life Without Light: A Journey to Earth’s Dark Ecosystems was a nonfiction YA title that explored the fledgling scientific study of little-know creatures that eke out an existence deep inside caves, around hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, on the walls of underground aquifers, and within rocky crevices deep below our planet’s surface. My timing is was perfect, and the book was well received. It was thrilling.

Since 1998, I’ve written 191 books about a wide range of science topics, but I’m still fascinating by creatures that live in total darkness and rely on chemicals rather than plants as their ultimate food source. That’s why I’m so excited to see two fantastic 2018 picture books that highlight topics I discussed in Life Without Light.

Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Katherine Roy, shares a little known story that I included in Chapter 2 of my book. In 1930, Otis Barton and Will Beebe became the first humans to dive into the deep sea. Crammed inside a hollow metal ball they’d designed themselves, they bravely dealt with a leak that could have caused them to drown and a sparking wire that could have made the bathysphere explode. After overcoming these obstacles, Barton and Beebe descended a record-setting 800 feet and were mesmerized by the life they discovered in inky blackness.

Rosenstock skillfully introduces the intrepid explorers by highlighting their many differences as well as the one thing they shared—a powerful desire to explore the deep ocean. Simple language bursting with vivid verbs, sensory details, and clever use of repetition brings the episode to life, allowing young readers to share the excitement. Roy’s breathtaking art captures the drama and intrigue of the adventure as well as the beauty of the deep ocean and its denizens.
Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN by debut author Michelle Cusolito, illustrated by Nicole Wong, takes readers 2,500 feet below the waves to a hydrothermal vent on the ocean floor to see many of the same amazing creatures I described in my book 20 years ago. Back then, the cottony bacteria mats, dinner-plate-sized clams, and giant tube worms with feathery plumes were newly discovered, but now scientists know so much more about them.
Cusolito deftly employs second-person narration and spare, precise descriptions to give readers a you-are-there experience as the three-person vehicle descends, explores, and then returns to the surface.  Wong’s lovely digital paintings show the deep, dark ecosystem in all its glory.
Both of these books feature beautifully-crafted language and stunning, accurate art. I highly recommend that you buy them both and share them together, exploring their similarities and differences in content, artistic techniques, and writing style.


  1. Congrats on your book anniversary! I love Barb Rosenstock's work, and I've heard quite a bit about Michelle's book. Looking forward to reading both of these!

  2. I am lucky to have read Flying Deep since Michelle is a friend, and it's a stunning debut! I can't wait to read Otis & Will either, since I'm a fan of Barb's books. So looking forward to hear upcoming book on Chagall!