Meet the Oceans by Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin.
Dive into our review and jump behind the scenes as we chat to illustrator Bethan Woollvin...
What's it about?
More than 70% of the Earth's surface is covered in water and this stunning new book takes readers on a magnificent maritime world tour. We encounter a variety of creatures, travelling through stormy seas, glacial landscapes, balmy tropics and sultry sunsets, in the comfort of a little submarine.
What can we learn?
This book is brimming with fascinating facts about our oceans and the wildlife that inhabits them. Children are introduced to the consequences of pollution and the importance of keeping the sea plastic-free.
What makes this stand out? Entertaining and educational, Meet the Oceans is a glorious celebration of nature and a fantastic way for curious little readers to explore marine life. The combination of lively rhyming text and striking illustrations makes the sea even more magical, and the information embedded in the story more memorable.
Just as they did with the planets of the solar system, Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin have managed to give the oceans distinct personalities. This may seem impossible with bodies of water, but the words and the images work wonders together to create unique characteristics. Speech patterns, facial expressions, eco-systems, colour palettes, and the movement of their waves, convey different emotions and energies for each ocean.
About those illustrations...
They are incredible and among the best I've ever seen. I love Bethan Woollvin and knew the artwork would be exceptional, but it's even more impressive than I expected. Every single scene is a vibrant explosion of life - above and below the water. The colour palette changes with each location but is always interesting and eye-catching. There's so much blue in this book yet no two spreads are ever the same and each one feels as fresh as saltwater.
It's amazing how so much is communicated by the images and how it's possible to perceive more about the temperaments of the oceans by looking at them. The Caribbean Sea seems relaxed while the polluted Pacific appears to be annoyed. Even the dog has a wide range of reactions and all the animals are adorable. My kids are particularly fond of the penguins and the aye-ayes, especially as they had never heard of the latter before and find their name amusing. They think the mischievous-looking crabs are hilarious too. Read our interview with illustrator Bethan Woollvin
Why we love Meet the Oceans...
This book has all the excitement of a real aquatic adventure. Who doesn't enjoy embarking on an elaborate journey via a book at bedtime? One of my favourite stories from my own childhood contained a fictional town plan, which I used to spend hours tracing. It's brilliant how you can chart the cruise taken with this book on the map at the back.
The lyrical text is just as boisterous as the bustling waters depicted, and a joy to read aloud. Seagulls swoop, tuna fish flash and coral glitters. The pacing allows for plenty of pauses to sufficiently appreciate the beauty of each scene. Having lots to spot and discuss on every page adds to the fun, introduces an interactive element, and enriches the reading experience.
Why you need it...
Meet the Oceans encapsulates all the exuberance of waves crashing on a beach and is as invigorating as a day at the seaside. This book is a geography lesson and inspirational voyage rolled into one. Humanising the oceans and showing the animals that live in them will help children to feel more connected to and protective of them. This is ideal for encouraging young people to take an interest in the environment. The bold shapes and bright colours are perfect for little readers, but there's plenty to appeal to older kids too. My almost-six-year-old is just as intrigued by this as the preschooler. Meet the Oceans would make an excellent classroom resource and a fabulous gift. This is a book that will make a splash wherever it goes!
About the author:
Caryl Hart is one of our favourite authors. Not only a prolific writer of acclaimed, bestselling and utterly brilliant books for children of all ages, Caryl also blogs about, and tirelessly promotes, literature for young readers. You can purchase signed copies of all Caryl's books, including this one, from her website. We interviewed Caryl back in January and you can read our chat here.
About the illustrator:
Bethan Woollvin is an author and illustrator, famous for her feminist fairy tales and her bold and distinct style. Bethan's debut picture book, Little Red, won the Macmillan Children’s Book Competition in 2014 and was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Book in 2016. Little Red also won the AOI World Illustration Award and was nominated for the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award and the Klaus Flugge Prize in 2017.
Congratulations on Meet the Oceans! It must be very exciting to see the finished product arrive from the publisher. How did you feel when you saw this book for the first time?
Thank you! Yes, I was certainly very excited when I received my copies of Meet the Oceans from my publishers, I couldn’t wait to see how it had turned out! This project was challenging in many ways for me as an illustrator, so when I first flicked through a copy of the book, I remember feeling incredibly proud, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved that it was finished. It was a lot of work! Receiving physical copies of your books always feels somewhat like the last hurdle of a project, as it encapsulates all of your hard work and time into one object, and it sort of reminds you that the project was real!
What, if anything, did you find most challenging about this project?
Every book I work on has it’s own challenges, and that’s just the way I like it! If I’m not challenging myself with my illustrations, I’ll find it much harder to develop as an artist. Meet the Oceans was no exception! The biggest challenge for this book was both perspective and the personification of each body of water, and how I was going to make each ocean or sea different from the last.
Early on in the project, I spent a good while sketching character designs for the oceans, thinking about things like colour, size, personality and all of the other characteristics Caryl Hart had included in her rhymes about the oceans and seas. For example, Caryl included both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea in the story, but how could I represent them as unique beings? Aside from just picking colours which we associate with those waters, I thought about the movement of the ocean or sea. The Atlantic, to me - would be choppy, windy and a bit dramatic, whereas I think of the Caribbean as slow, gentle and warm.
We also had to do some design problem solving when it came to actually displaying each ocean or sea throughout the book. It became apparent very quickly that we needed to experiment with different points of view and perspective, finding fun ways to showcase each body of water in the best way possible. Sometimes this involved showing the sea bed, and other times above water. One thing I know for sure is that we broke a lot of perspective rules while creating the artwork for this book, but I think we might have gotten away with it!
I love your limited colour palettes but I love how colourful this book is too. Did you plan to use more colours from the beginning or did the palette evolve as the project progressed?
I know this sounds quite strange, but the more colours I use, the harder I find it to actually bring an idea out of my brain and onto the page. By thinking of an idea in just a few colours, it sort of speeds up the process for me. In the early stages of creating illustrations for Meet the Oceans, I naturally began with quite a slim colour palette. But along with the other troubles of diversifying each ocean or sea, we decided that expanding the colour palette would be really helpful. However, I didn’t use all of the colours from this wider palette all on one spread. Instead, I would pick a couple of colours from the palette, and cycle through them with each new ocean or sea, using different combinations for each one. This really helped each ocean or sea feel different, all while keeping all of the illustrations connected with colour throughout the book.
How long were you working on this book?
I believe it took around 7 months to complete, in total. I was actually working on this book during the first lockdown of 2020!
Do you have to do much research or any other preparation before beginning to illustrate a book for another author, and if so, what does this process involve?
It really depends on the subject and the type of book. The series of books myself and Caryl Hart are collaborating on are all non-fiction, which naturally involves more research and preparation than a fiction story would. Non-fiction requires me to find a way to illustrate with some degree of accuracy to the subject as it’s recognisable to everyday life. But most of my book projects begin in the same way, which usually involves me putting together a moodboard together, where I draw upon certain visual inspirations. For example, for Meet the Oceans, I collected a lot of photos of water, so I could understand how to convincingly draw bubbles, currents and waves. I also collected lots of photos of fish, coral and whales etc. These references help me to refine my ideas and keep me on the right track to create the artwork I originally planned.
Did you learn lots about oceans and marine life from this working project and do you have a favourite fact from the book?
Definitely! I think that’s what makes this series such a fascinating project to work on! I had a lot of fun researching about different species of fish and other sea creatures, and then finding a way to sketch them into these gorgeous undersea environments. I found out so many cool facts while working on this book, such as the Coral Sea being so large it can be seen from space. But my favourite fact from the book is that the Atlantic Ocean is home to lots of diamonds in it’s sea bed...who knew!?
When you are illustrating a book, do you do create the scenes in chronological order or are you drawn to particular scenes more than others and do those first, or do you just work on them randomly?
Generally, I work on spreads for each of my books in chronological order, as it helps me pinpoint how far I am through a project. Although, sometimes the publisher may ask for a particular piece of artwork to be prioritised, so there are exceptions to this process!
Do you go through many drafts when illustrating a project or do you have a strong sense of how you want it to look before you begin?
For me, this varies from project to project! Sometimes, I just nail those illustrations in one rough draft, but some take lots more. I usually know what the illustration is going to look like early on, as I create a lot of the designs for my illustrations purely in my head. What takes the most time (and most drafts) is actually translating the image in my brain onto paper. It’s not always as easy as you think it’s going to be!
Do you have a favourite scene from this story?
I think my favourite sea has to be the Mediterranean Sea. It’s the last sea visited by the human and their dog in the submarine, so it has a kind of farewell feeling to it. I wanted to capture that mood with a bright pink sunset, the twinkling water and the sea creatures waving goodbye. It was also a particularly challenging spread, as it featured a tricky perspective of above and below the sea - so I am rather proud of it!
It's brilliant how the dog's expressions change and how he looks just as interested and excited as the human - if not more so sometimes! Is he based on your own dog?
Unfortunately, the little dog in this series isn’t based on my dog, Pod. I actually adopted Pod after I had already finished finished the first book in the series, Meet the Planets. But that doesn’t stop me looking to him for inspiration when I’m stuck for ideas of what the little dog will be doing next!
I love how the some of the oceans hug the land in the map at the end of the book - how did you get the idea for this?
During the early conceptual stages of this book, we felt like we needed to include a map of all of the oceans and seas, so the reader could work out where they had been on their submarine adventure! This got me thinking about maps of the world and how best to display the oceans and seas. Usually, it’s the land which is the important part of the maps, not the water! I wanted to draw attention to the oceans and seas, taking the focus off the land, so I created an inverted map of the world! This was the perfect way to remind readers of each ocean and sea, and show them just how big they really are!
Finally, I consider myself a picture book snob - is there anything you're snobby about?
Coffee! There’s nothing more disappointing than sad coffee with no flavour!
Thanks so much to Caryl Hart, Bethan Woollvin and the lovely people in Bloomsbury for our review copy and inviting us on the blog tour. All opinions expressed are our own.
Check out the other stops on week one of the blog tour: