June 13, 2013
(++++) WATER WONDERS
The Green Bath. By Margaret Mahy. Illustrated by Steven Kellogg. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. $16.99.
Coral Reefs. By Seymour Simon. Harper. $17.99.
How much of an adventure can a child have while taking a bath? Not much – unless he happens to be in The Green Bath. In this wonderful story from the late Margaret Mahy (1936-2012), Sammy’s father brings the odd-looking, claw-footed (or paw-footed) tub home from the flea market, just as the next-door neighbor comes home with a sleek speedboat, leading to the neighbors’ boys teasing Sammy for his thoroughly uninteresting water-related object. But…well, as Sammy’s dad installs the old bathtub, Sammy notices some strange things about it, and readers – thanks to Steven Kellogg’s illustrations – see even more than Sammy does, as the bath chuckles and smiles and scratches itself and then closes its eyes (yes, it has eyes) when Sammy’s mother orders him into the tub in preparation for a visit from his grandma. Sammy decides to have as much of an adventure in the tub as possible, so he dons swimsuit, snorkel and water wings and starts to imagine that the bath is jiggling and jumping and leaping and bounding…. But is he imagining it? The bath rushes out the house’s back door and zips all the way to the beach, where its entry into the water causes a wave that swamps the boys from next door, who are there with their father and his new boat. And suddenly Sammy is caught up in a whole series of adventures: mermaids singing, a race with a sea serpent, and then an encounter with pirates whose dastardly plans are foiled by Sammy, the bath and the sea serpent acting together: “Sammy bewildered them with bubbles and baffled them with soapsuds.” After a delightful wild-water ride back to shore, the bath rushes back across the beach and all the way home, settling itself in place just as Sammy’s mother and grandma show up at the bathroom door, putting an end to all the imaginary fun. But is it imaginary? Well, Sammy is wearing a pirate’s hat now, and happens to have a treasure chest, which he spends some time unloading on the window ledge, and at the very end of the book, on the copyright page and inside back cover, we see Sammy taking his grandma to the beach in the brightly smiling bathtub and introducing her to the sea serpent. Real, unreal, or a little bit of both, The Green Bath is completely charming and a quintessential case of good clean fun for readers and the book’s characters alike.
The redoubtable Seymour Simon turns his attention to some real-world water wonderfulness in Coral Reefs, using his usual formula for a book about the world around us: compact, easy-to-read, fact-packed text combined with beautiful photographs from a variety of sources. Starting with an explanation that a coral reef is “a gigantic community of living things,” Simon discusses and shows hard and soft corals, explains where coral reefs are found and how exceptionally diverse the life is in and around them, talks about the three main types of reefs (fringing, barrier and atolls), and then mentions some reef denizens and how they live. Extreme closeups of a moray eel and parrotfish are among the visual attractions here, along with the super-bright colors for which reefs and reef fish are known – contrasted with, on one page, a reef that has turned white and is dying, as Simon explains ways in which reefs can be contaminated and otherwise threatened. Beautiful photos taking up more than a full page conclude the book as Simon talks about people whose livelihoods depend on the reefs and explains that reefs can be “thousands of times larger than even the tallest skyscraper” – a truly amazing fact that hopefully will make young readers even more interested in studying coral reefs and finding out the importance of protecting them and the millions and millions of creatures that depend on them. A short “Read More about It” list at the end of the book – on the same page as an index and a useful glossary – is a fine place to start getting more information after absorbing this latest of Simon’s very impressive introductions to the natural world.