Books Early Readers Features Genre Lifespan of a Reader Middle Grade Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books

[Nonfiction Wednesday] Mapping The Ocean’s Depths (and Secrets)

Meet Marie Tharp and learn how she managed to uncover the secrets of the ocean.

Myra here.

We are delighted to dedicate our Wednesdays to featuring nonfiction titles, as per usual.

A few weeks back, I shared that our college is hosting a reading challenge for UAE’s reading month in March. I have committed to reading these two picturebooks under the prompt: Life Below Water and happy to feature them here.

Solving The Puzzle Under The Sea: Marie Tharp Maps The Ocean Floor (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Robert Burleigh Illustrated by Raul Colon
Published by Simon Schuster / Paula Wiseman Books (2016) ISBN: 9781481416009 (ISBN10: 1481416006) Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

While I am familiar with Jacques Cousteau (see my review of Manfish here), Ken Nedimyer (see Fats’ review of The Brilliant Deep here), the oceanographer Sylvia Earle (see Fats’ review here), and the shark lady Eugenie Clark (see my review here), this is the first time that I am hearing of American geologist and oceanographic cartographer, Marie Tharp.

Book creators Robert Burleigh and Raul Colon presented Marie Tharp’s picturebook biography in the first person. I do have my reservations about this (it’s more like a fictionalized biographical narrative), since as a reader, I am not too certain which are the ones she actually said herself or which ones had been extrapolated by the authors. However, it does have an extensive bibliography and afterword in the end which teachers can use to supplement the reading of the story.

Marie Tharp was born in the 1920s and attended college and eventually found a job in the 1940s – a period in history when women were perceived as “unfit for scientific research” as the Afterword indicated, despite her receiving degrees in Music, English, Mathematics, and Geology. Notwithstanding her not being provided permission to join her male colleagues in scientific expeditions and ocean trips (because “having a woman on a ship is bad luck”), she set down to work in her desk and proceeded to map the ocean floor based on data provided to her by colleagues.

I was also struck by the image above (which I would contrast with another image from Ocean Speaks) – as it shows how Marie Tharp needed to first convince her male colleague Bruce Heezen about her discovery of rifts in the ocean floor (a revolutionary idea at the time) before the idea was presented to the rest of the scientific community. Marie Tharp’s astute calculations eventually helped confirm the theory of continental drift, which changed the way people viewed the earth. What an amazing discovery for a desk-bound female scientist.

Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed The Ocean’s Biggest Secret (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Jess Keating Illustrated by Katie Hickey
Published by Tundra Books (2020) ISBN: 9780735265080 (ISBN10: 0735265089) Literary Awards: Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Nominee for Younger Children Honor (2020), Riverby Awards (2021). Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

I am familiar with Jess Keating’s picturebook biographies (author of Shark Lady which I mentioned earlier), and was glad to note that she wrote it in her usual third-person POV. The story started off with Marie Tharp’s fascination with nature and the outdoors and how greatly she was influenced by her father who was a mapmaker himself.

I was also struck by how there was greater portrayal of Marie Tharp excelling in maths and sciences in this version through images, which I found to resonate with authenticity in terms of her being a scientist:

The fact that her eventual discoveries were initially derided by male colleagues had likewise been shown here – but do contrast the imagery below with the one above, which I found to be quite interesting:

In the Author’s Note, I also discovered something that I did not find out in the first picturebook biography:

Marie had mapped the truth. She believed in her work and stood tall as others doubted it. Her colleague and friend Bruce Heezen presented the map on her behalf. It took several years for other scientists to embrace Marie’s map, but once they did, people began to once more examine how the continents might move over time. (italics mine)

The fact that her male colleague had to present an idea that she discovered was not lost on me. What struck me most of all, however, was that she did not whine, complain, pout when she was not granted permission to join male colleagues in their ocean research expeditions – she simply went on doing what she did best, and they all ended up collecting data that she would later make sense of, leading to her mapping of the ocean floor and discovery of the ocean’s secrets. How awesome is that.

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