Hakai Magazine

A detail of the cover illustration for Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly.
A detail of the cover illustration by Leo Nickolls for Lynne Kelly’s book Song for a Whale. Cover image courtesy of Penguin Random House

Eleven New Coastal Books to Help Kids (and Adults) Destress

This season’s selections feature strong female characters, adventurous otters, and singing whales.

Authored by

by Raina Delisle

Article body copy

Feeling stressed about the pandemic, politics, and the state of our planet? Me too. And so are kids, who have to wear masks to school, skip a season or two of soccer or swimming lessons, and stay more than the length of a pool noodle away from their friends. Children can also pick up on your mood, which can in turn affect their emotional state. The good news is there’s a perfect activity that can help you and the little ones relax: reading. One study found that reading for just six minutes can reduce your stress by 68 percent. Research also shows that cuddling reduces stress. So, what are you waiting for? Here are 11 new coastal-themed kids’ books to cozy up with this season.

cover of The Case of the Singing OceanThe Case of the Singing Ocean
By Eric Hogan and Tara Hungerford
32 pp. Firefly Books

With everything moving online during the pandemic—school projects, family visits, piano lessons—no one needs more screen time. Fortunately, popular preschool kids’ TV series Scout and the Gumboot Kids also comes in book form. The latest in the collection of nature mysteries, The Case of the Singing Ocean, takes readers to the seashore to help Scout and Daisy, a pair of felted wool mice, figure out why they hear harmonies washing in with the waves. By searching for clues, poring over field notes, researching at the library, and taking mindful moments—like any astute scientist—the determined duo cracks the case. The book wraps up with two pages of field notes on (spoiler) humpback whales—the source of the singing—and instructions on how to make an ocean craft. (Just hold the glitter, which is plastic and can end up in the ocean.) Charming illustrations show the brightly dressed, expressive mice juxtaposed in serene real-world scenes. The Case of the Singing Ocean is an entertaining and educational picture book that encourages children to mindfully explore the mysteries of the natural world.

cover of Song for a WhaleSong for a Whale
Text by Lynne Kelly
304 pp. Penguin Random House

Ready for another singing whale and another adventure? In Song for a Whale, a novel for children ages eight to 12, readers meet 12-year-old Iris, who is the only deaf student in her school. Iris struggles to fit in and often feels alone and unheard. When her science teacher shows her class a video about Blue 55, a lonely hybrid whale that can’t communicate with other whales because he sings at a different frequency, Iris feels an instant kinship with the whale. Iris, who has a knack for fixing old radios, sets out on a mission to create a song for the whale to help researchers tag him and to let him know that he’s not alone. And so begins an emotional journey full of ups and downs that culminates in a powerful moment of connection and understanding. This touching tale is packed with poignant parallels between the stories of Iris and Blue 55, highlighted in chapters from the whale’s perspective. Details about scientific tools and concepts—from hydrophones to hybridization—are also woven in, adding an extra educational element. Song for a Whale is a lyrical, layered book with universal messages of hope and belonging—just what we all need during these lonely COVID-19 times.

cover of Ocean SpeaksOcean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean’s Biggest Secret
Text by Jess Keating
Illustrations by Katie Hickey
34 pp. Penguin Random House

Pop quiz, two questions: (1) Who’s Jacques Cousteau? (2) Who’s Marie Tharp? If you only know the answer to number one, you’re not alone. Fortunately, Ocean Speaks introduces readers to the little-known scientist who proved the famous undersea explorer wrong. This satisfying story follows Marie Tharp on her journey to becoming the first person to map the Earth’s underwater mountain ridge, back when “girls were not supposed to dream of becoming scientists or explorers.” Nevertheless, she persisted. Ocean Speaks is an empowering feminist story of exploration, determination, and defeating the patriarchy, carefully told in compelling prose that clearly explains scientific concepts. Whimsical illustrations in earthy tones capture the beauty and complexity of the scientific process and the magic and mystery of what lies beneath the waves.

cover of If You Want to Visit a Sea GardenIf You Want to Visit a Sea Garden
Text by Kay Weisman
Illustrations by Roy Henry Vickers
32 pp. House of Anansi Press

From Washington State to Alaska, secret sea gardens dot the Pacific Northwest. These clam gardens—human-made reefs that encourage the growth of shellfish—have been tended by Indigenous people for more than 3,500 years, but few remain today. If You Want to Visit a Sea Garden invites readers to visit one of these magical gardens, which only reveals itself at the lowest of tides. Melodic prose speaks directly to the reader, fully immersing you in the experience. “Don’t forget to dig for clams!” the book invites. “We can steam some to eat now or string them up to smoke for later.” You can almost taste them. The trademark bold, colorful art of celebrated Indigenous artist Roy Henry Vickers evokes a sense of place and purpose. As the book concludes, “If you want to visit a sea garden … you’ll have to get up really early, but it will be worth it.”

cover of Nattiqnattiq and the Land of Statues
Text by Barbara Landry
Illustrations by Martha Kyak
24 pp. House of Anansi Press

Imagine seeing trees for the very first time and not knowing what they are. That’s what nattiq, a ringed seal, experiences when he heads south in nattiq and the Land of Statues. When he returns to the Arctic, he excitedly tells his posse—a narwhal, caribou, polar bear, walrus, and raven—all about the “strange statues” that “whisper and nod to each other.” Through poetic prose, the awestruck ringed seal tells his captivated friends what the trees do in the fall, winter, and spring. “In upirngaaq [spring] I hear the songs of birds. The statues open their arms to the creatures of the sky.” Inuktitut words appear throughout the text and are defined in the glossary, adding authenticity to the story and giving readers the opportunity to guess the meaning of the words based on the context before flipping to the back of the book. Digitally rendered illustrations by Martha Kyak, who grew up in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, capture the dreamscape of the Arctic and the places nattiq visits. nattiq and the Land of Statues is an enchanting tale that invites readers to reflect on the power, purpose, and beauty of the lungs of our planet.

cover of Glow Down DeepGlow Down Deep: Amazing Creatures That Light Up
Text by Lisa Regan
48 pp. Firefly Books

Kids love stuff that glows in the dark—T-shirts, toys, stickers—so Glow Down Deep, a glow-in-the-dark book about amazing ocean creatures that actually light up in the darkness, is sure to be a hit. This picture book takes readers to the depths of the ocean to meet organisms big and small—and cute and creepy—that use the power of light to hunt, hide, attract a mate, or who knows what! Each two-page spread features a different creature, complete with eye-popping photos set against black pages, details on how and why they light up, and cool facts to trot out at recess. The accessible text includes pronunciation guides that will have children and adults alike sounding like scientists. Glow Down Deep is a book that shines a light on the often-hidden, awe-inspiring phenomena of bioluminescence, biofluorescence, and ultraviolet light.

cover of Return from ExtinctionReturn from Extinction: The Triumph of the Elephant Seal
Text by Linda L. Richards
96 pp. Orca Book Publishers

These dark times call for a good-news story featuring a quirky protagonist that makes a remarkable recovery. Return from Extinction: The Triumph of the Elephant Seal has all this and more. This nonfiction book from the Orca Wild series introduces children ages nine to 12 to northern elephant seals, which were hunted to near extinction less than a century ago and made an impressive comeback thanks to conservation efforts. The males are about the size of small buses, have distinct oversized snouts and sound like zombies, while the females are about one-third the size and have cartoon-like glassy eyes the size of tennis balls, and sweet whiskered faces—what’s not to love? Through snappy prose that simplifies scientific concepts and close-up photos that show elephant seals in all their natural glory, this book covers the marine mammals’ biology, behavior, habitat, history, and future in an ever-changing ocean. Return from Extinction is an insightful natural history journey sure to inspire the next generation of marine biologists.

cover of Out of SeasonOut of Season
Text by Kari Jones
112 pp. Orca Book Publishers

Want to take your mind off everything? Sit down with the little reader in your life and dive into Out of Season, a heart-pounding mystery novel for readers ages nine to 12. This captivating read follows 14-year-old Maya as she races around in her kayak to save the sea otters she’s befriended—Lilly, Gertrude, and Oscar—and her fishing family’s livelihood with the bad guys hot on her keel. The story is full of twists and turns and well-timed comic relief. Each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, making it irresistible to continue (I read it to my kids in two sittings). The fast-paced, ultra-readable text is so vivid you can almost smell the salty sea and feel Maya’s bursts of adrenaline. The smart, strong protagonist will inspire you and your reading buddy to fight for what you believe in and never give up. An exciting and empowering read.

cover of Kah-Lan and Stink-InkKah-Lan and the Stink-Ink
Text by Karen Autio
Illustrations by Emma Pedersen
128 pp. CRWTH Press

After reading about an effort to save sea otters from above the waves, dive into an adventure below the waves told from the perspective of a daring young otter. In Kah-Lan and the Stink-Ink, Kah-Lan strikes out from his raft in search of like-minded buddies and adventure—which is exactly what he finds, along with plenty of danger. In addition to day-to-day challenges—finding food and avoiding predators—the otters have to contend with human-caused dangers such as an oil spill (aka a stink-ink) and abandoned fishing gear, but they also meet marine mammal rescuers who go to great lengths to save them. This lively, descriptive tale shows what marine mammals are up against and what humans are doing to help and will hopefully encourage a new generation of ocean protectors.

cover of Plasticus MaritimusPlasticus Maritimus: An Invasive Species
Text by Ana Pêgo and Isabel Minhós Martins
Illustrations by Bernardo P. Carvalho
Translation by Jane Springer
176 pp. Greystone Books

Meet Plasticus maritimus­, an invasive species infiltrating oceans around the world. In the namesake book Plasticus Maritimus, biologist Ana Pêgo explains why she decided to give ocean plastic a scientific name, declare it an invasive species, and dedicate her life to studying it. “Things become more real to us when we name them and give them an identity,” she explains. The colorful field guide—complete with cute illustrations that look like they were done by kids—investigates how plastic is made, how it is used, how it ends up in the ocean, and how it can hurt people, animals, and ecosystems. It also explores how we can help, from saying no to balloons at birthday parties to volunteering to revamp your school’s recycling program. While the subject is serious, Plasticus Maritimus is an upbeat read sure to inspire positive action in children and adults alike.

cover of I am the ElwhaI Am the Elwha
Text by Lori Peelen
Illustrations by Laura Timmermans
32 pp. Strong Nations

It can be tough for kids and adults to truly comprehend the impact of industrial development on nature because species and ecosystems can’t talk. If they could, what would they say? I Am the Elwha answers this question. About a century ago, the Elwha River in Washington State was blocked by a pair of dams that prevented salmon from spawning and caused populations to crash. In 2012, the first dam was demolished, followed by the second in 2014. The river rushed to the sea and habitat is slowly being restored. In I Am the Elwha, we hear from the river, lake, trees and animals about the impact of the dams and their removal. We also hear from the man who built the dam, the man who operated it, and members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. In lyrical, rhythmic poetry, all of the players share their perspectives. “My people return, and my creatures and trees,” the river says in celebration. “I rush out to greet them: Welcome my children / welcome home, welcome home!” Colorful illustrations capture the pain of losing one’s home and the joy of having it rightfully returned. I Am the Elwha is a powerful read about a powerful river and those who value and protect it.