Unlocking the clues of 'Sea Secrets'

Network News Fall 2008, Vol. 21 No. 2

New LTER Children's book draws readers into the fascinating world of science exploration, field-work and ocean discovery

*NOTE: the author's affiliation was previously stated incorrectly as being California Current Ecosystem (CCE) LTER and McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER. Her correct affiliation is CCE and Palmer Station (PAL) LTER. We regret the error.*

Inspired by scientific research from two National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites, a story unfolds inviting young readers to join a scientific inquiry. The quest begins off the West Coast of the United States in the California Current and travels down to the polar waters west of the Antarctic Peninsula near Palmer Station. Separated by thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean, a seabird, a whale and a penguin engage readers in an inquiry progess as they explore two distinctly different ecosystems. Intended for young readers ages 5 to 10 years, basic ecological concepts are uncovered ranging from the characteristics of animals and changes in the ecosystem to diversity, adaptations and the interdependence of organisms in the marine environment. As the story unfolds, a mystery unravels and points squarely over time to one tiny animal that links them all.

The combined efforts of award-winning children's author Mary M. Cerullo and Education Outreach Coordinator Beth E. Simmons bring years of science and education experience together to create Sea Secrets: Tiny Clues to a Big Mystery-the third book in the NSF supported LTER Children's Book Series. Graphic artist, illustrator and designer Kirsten Carlson harmoniously blends field sketches, watercolors and photographs to help tailor the book to a wide audience bringing together the various ways of learning science. The creators of the book wanted to tap into the innate curiousity in readers and have them think as young scientists. It prompts questions as they read and integrates photographs from the field, immersing them in the scientific process. The story encourages readers to forge new connections between science and their daily lives and promotes the interconnectedness of all things in the environment.

The authors noted that much of the information surrounding the topic of zooplankton (a key link in marine food webs) was at best foreign to many, embedded in the practices of science research and unknown to the general public. To harvest the relevant research from each site required drawing upon local and international resources over a three-year period. The lead Principal Investigators of LTER sites, other affiliated scientists and experts, graduate students, education outreach coordinators, writers, authors, illustrators, editors, publishers, teachers and their students were all included in the process. Endorsed as a product of the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008, Sea Secrets is a part of the Polar Books Club (www.unep.org/publications/polarbooks) and underscores each LTER site's dedication to the process of promoting science literacy. It is a vehicle to encourage discussions on more complex topics infusing excitement into reading and learning science.

Additional financial support from the LTER Children's Book Fund and the National Science Foundation has allowed for the development of an activity guide. The guide is a growing collection of resources, case studies, fact sheets, experiments, and fun activities widening the appeal to K - 12 grade levels, supporting the effort to take learning, "beyond the book". Each site also has a direct link to the book's website http://cce.lternet.edu/outreach/seasecrets or http://lter.ucsd.edu/outreach/seasecrets/. Over time, you'll find kids art, additional photographs from each LTER site, recommended reading lists, downloadable lessons and other resources to utilize.

Meanwhile, illustrator Kirsten Carlson is working with a local cub scout troop in Germany, giving the book crucial international exposure. Co-author Mary Cerullo is planning two upcoming teacher workshops in February and March, in Maine where she will be integrating SeaSecrets into the schedule. Co-author Beth Simmons conducted a read-aloud at a local 1st grade classroom in Stafford, Virginia. Feedback from teacher and a taped audio recording are posted on the book's website (http://cce.lternet.edu/outreach/seasecrets).

SeaSecrets has also received publicity locally, including a write up in the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) e-magazine (http://explorations.ucsd.edu/Around_the_Pier/2008/Nov/Simmons/), in the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) webpage (in development), the Southwest National Marine Educators Association (SWMEA) newsletter (http://www.swmea.org/newsletter/printed/summer08.newsletter.pdf), and SignOnSanDiego (http://entertainment.signonsandiego.com/events/family-days-sea-secrets).

Books can be purchased from Moonlight Publishing or Amazon.com. A book signing and Family Days event will be held at Birch Aquarium at SIO in La Jolla California, on February 21st from 11 – 3 pm. For more information about the book, please contact Beth Simmons (besimmons@ucsd.edu).