TITLE: The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau
AUTHOR + ILLUSTRATOR: Dan Yaccarino
PUBLISHED BY: Knopf, 2009
Reading The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau was as much fun as I have had in a long time. Dan Yaccarino's cheerful, multi-layered, colorful illustrations, and a rich narrative of Cousteau's fascinating life will excite and engage any child with even the vaguest interest in: science, adventure, art, the oceans, nature as a whole, the color yellow, and, of course, Jacques Cousteau himself.
Cousteau was not a part of my childhood, though I assume he was very much a part of my parent's childhood. Somehow we missed that boat (haha)--hence, I didn't get half the jokes of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. But I was no less enthralled by Yaccarino's lively picture book biorgraphy, which earned a starred review from Kirkus, and was on several Best of 2009 lists.
Yaccarino, an artist first and author second, was inspired to write this story because he kept creating under-water drawings. His book is surprisingly colorful--not just blue blue blue. The feeling of being underwater is conveyed by layers of semi-translucent painted waves. Depth is signified by these layers too. (See illustraton below.) It is a wonderfully imaginative way to bring the ocean to life through illustration. But it certainly isn't literal--which is too bad considering that Jacques Cousteau brought ocean life to all of us through his filming and exploration.
If I may, I'll take a moment to summarize this Biography Week. What do highlighters have to do with Olivier Messiaen? What does Cousteau have to do with a eighteenth century Japanese wood cut artist? I picked these 5 books because they were beautiful and intriguing books about remarkable indivuduals who all shared two characteristics: passion and curiosity. They show that inspiration comes from many different sources: Cousteau was crippled, and so he swam, and so he fell in love with the ocean; Messiaen heard a nightingale while unjustly imprisioned; the Switzer brothers discovered flouresence because one of them fell into a vat of ketchup bottles. Inspiration really does come everywhere. And these individuals did something with their inspriation: the created, they explored, the learned, and they shared their discoveries with the whole world, making it a better place. Read and love their stories, and who's to say where curiosity, hard work, and wonder will take you!
"The sea, once it casts its spell, hold one in its net of wonder forever." --Jacques Cousteau