Children's Review: The Brilliant Deep

In a visually exhilarating exploration, author Kate Messner (Over and Under the Pond) and illustrator Matthew Forsythe (The Bad Mood and the Stick; Warning: Do Not Open This Book!) tell the inspiring story of Ken Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation.

Nedimyer, son of a NASA engineer, grew up in Florida but, unlike his father, "Ken's dreams weren't in the stars. He loved the ocean." Messner tells her readers, "[h]e watched TV shows about underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau. He visited the beach whenever he could, swimming far out to a world of angelfish and sea stars." Forsythe's illustrations set tone: calming, inviting colors as a young Ken watches the sun rise over the water; bold, dark colors in an exciting underwater Cousteau adventure.

As Nedimyer ages, he continues to submerge himself in ocean life--literally while scuba diving in the ocean and metaphorically in his own bedroom housing 30 aquariums. The textures of Forsythe's corresponding illustrations create a feeling of authenticity and seem to pulse with the life that fascinates the adolescent Nedimyer.

And when Messner shares the foreboding news, "One summer, hotter than the rest, Ken noticed the corals were losing their color, and there weren't as many fish," a silent, dark double-page spread follows, conjuring thoughts of an eerie, watery graveyard. From this sad, gloomy depth, the story begins to buoy.

The audience learns about live rock farms and staghorn corals. They share in the excitement of Nedimyer's discovery of the coral as well as his experiments replanting them on the dying reefs and the inception of the Coral Restoration Foundation. As the other ocean wildlife--gulls and fish--follow him in the illustrations, there's a sense of support, encouragement, maybe even a cheer squad. The intensity increases, the colors brighten and hope emerges from the vivid pages, Messner and Forsythe giving readers cause for jubilation in Nedimyer's adventure.

The stunning attention to detail in Forsythe's art--he carefully shapes a "dab of epoxy" being squeezed from a tube to match the text, "just the size of a Hershey's Kiss"--complements Messner's narrative and helps bring it to life. His illustration at the end depicting an adult Nedimyer sitting in front of the same ocean as the boy Nedimyer at the book's opening, brings the tale to a satisfying, heart-warming end. And Messner's final words, "It starts with one"--the same four that opened the story--remind the audience that the sun will come up again tomorrow, giving them a chance to be the "one" as well. 

An excellent introduction to environmental awareness and respect, The Brilliant Deep is sure to spark interest and inspire many young readers. The endnotes, providing additional resources and vocabulary terms, give budding marine biologists more avenues to explore and learn. As we know from Ken Nedimyer, "It starts with one." The Brilliant Deep may be that one that triggers the next young Nedimyer. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Shelf Talker: The ocean comes alive in this dazzling, nonfiction picture book about the life of Ken Nedimyer and his efforts to save the coral reefs through the creation of the Coral Restoration Foundation.

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