________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 8 . . . . October 25, 2013


In Deep with the Octopus.

Norma Dixon.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2013.
40 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
ISBN 978-1-55455-270-2.

Subject Heading:
Octopuses-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.

Review by Suzanne Pierson.

*** /4



Made of Muscles

Could you drag a tractor? With a lot of effort, humans can drag an object that's twice their own weight. An octopus, on the other hand, can drag an object that's 20 times its own weight! Each of its 8 rubbery arms has 10 muscles and 2 rows of strong sucker discs. That's 80 muscles and about 1,500 sucker discs in all.

Author Norma Dixon has written a book of scientific, literary, and pop culture 'facts' about the octopus. Although this book has some weaknesses, it may be worth having a closer look at it if you need more books on endangered or threatened sea creatures.

      The book begins with an engaging table of contents. Who can resist chapter headings like "Escape Artists" and "From Egg to End"? Subheadings such as "Smarter than Fido?" and "Chomp! Drill! Pull!" certainly make you want to turn the pages and find out more.

      Also included is a useful glossary for the words in bold throughout the text, an index, a list for further reading, an up-to-date bibliography, and a comprehensive list of image credits. In addition, the author has included simple instructions to make two types of toy octopuses.

      The layout of the text and accompanying photos and illustrations is attractive, but it is hard to decide where to focus. The two page spread, pages 16-17, for example, includes five coloured photos, four of which are enclosed in magnifying glass shapes, and 11 pink blob shapes of different sizes, one of which contains a brief paragraph of information in bold. One of the photos has a title and three of the other photos have speech bubbles. Across the top is a banner of colour and Chapter 4. The text, organized with a heading and three subheadings, wraps around the photos and blobs filling almost all of the available space on the page. This is a case where a little less might have been better.

      The author's style of writing is very personal.

Would you like to meet an octopus? You can find one in any ocean in the world, but you might have to look carefully.

      Many interesting facts about octopuses are included from folklore, movies, and scientific research. Younger readers may have some difficulty extracting the information from the complex sentences and lengthy paragraph structures. For example:

If the mimic octopus wants to look like a poisonous flatfish that few others want to eat, it arranges its arms in a leaf shape, changes its colour to match the seabed, and swims away flatfish-style by rippling its flexible body.

      The text can also be confusing to interpret. Despite several re-readings, I can't resolve the apparent conflict in this paragraph.

All octopuses have venomous spit and there's a possibility that some could kill a human with their bite, but this has never been proven satisfactorily. Only the greater blue-ringed octopus is known for sure to have a bite that is fatal to humans, and it only bites if it's provoked.

      In Deep with the Octopus is filled with interesting information and is worth considering if you need a book about these intelligent and threatened sea creatures. However, the presentation of the information has a few weaknesses, so look at all the alternatives before you decide if this is worth the shelf space in your library.


Suzanne Pierson, a retired teacher-librarian, is currently instructing Librarianship courses at Queen's University in Kingston, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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