Solving Puzzles with Robert Burleigh

BookendsLynn: I LOVE my job! How cool is it to get to learn new things and be paid for it? Today’s stellar book proves my case. Have you ever heard of Marie Tharp? I hadn’t, although she is considered to be one of the most important scientists of the twentieth century. Happily, the wonderful Robert Burleigh and Raúl Colón have teamed up again to bring us her story in Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean FloorBook cover for Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor (2016).

Burleigh uses first person to introduce young readers to this truly remarkable woman, incorporating meaningful details that provide accessible entry points for young readers, like the fact that Tharp attended 17 different schools because her father’s job required their family to move, and that she loved maps. Graduating from college in 1948, she struggled to gain acceptance as a scientist because she was a woman. Tharp persevered, eventually making the profound observation that no one knew much about the structure of the ocean floor. Was it possible to map it? So began Tharp’s work on a truly ground-breaking project that spanned over 20 years, providing important information that changed how scientists understood not only the ocean floor but our planet’s shifting plates.

Scientists are like that.
They question everything.

One of the many things I admire about this book is the wonderfully clear explanations of Tharp’s work as well as a subtle depiction of how a scientist works: with lots of conversations and debates. The text confirms, “Scientists are like that. They question everything.” All this is delivered in a perfect duet of text and stunning illustrations, done in a gorgeous watery palette, that extend the text. Aside from being simply beautiful, they aptly carry on the conversation with the reader! But let me hand this off to Cindy to tell you more.

Cindy: I wish I’d seen this book a week ago! I’m just finishing a seventh-grade ELA project with my students using nonfiction and biography picture books. The students each select a picture book and then research its subject and write an essay about the impact of the person or event. They then create an Animoto video to share with the class using photographs and images they have found online. Next year I’ll be including Puzzle Under the Sea in this project. We did include one of Burleigh’s previous biography picture books in the project, and one of my favorites, The Adventures of Mark Twain by Huckleberry Finn. If you haven’t read this one, do yourself a favor and just buy it now. Huck narrates the story of his creator’s life. If you teach this The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, you especially will want to get it.

TrappedWhen Lynn handed me Marie Tharp’s story (which she got from the public library), I went home and read it immediately, then went to my bookshelf and pulled off Burleigh’s Trapped! A Whale’s Rescue (2014), which we both loved but never got around to blogging about. I’d never heard of Tharp either and will be sharing this book with my science teachers to use with their plate tectonics and continental drift units. I’m with Lynn . . . I love my job. The end matter in Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea is nice, too. There’s an author’s note with more details about Tharp’s work, a glossary list, a bibliography, web resources, and a photo of Tharp and her ocean map. There are also some suggestions of “Things to Wonder About and Do” related to Tharp’s work.

Both Colón’s illustrations in Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea and Wendell Minor’s illustrations in Trapped! are perfect for their subjects. Pair them with an earlier Bookends picture book like Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle (2012). All three of these books make me want to grab my mask, fins, and a tank and head out to the deep waters to learn something new.




About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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