Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Book Review + Halloween Fun
“The phrase "in the dark," as I'm sure you know, can refer not only to one's shadowy surroundings, but also to the shadowy secrets of which one might be unaware. Every day, the sun goes down over all these secrets, and so everyone is in the dark in one way or another." -Lemony Snicket, The End
It is a challenge to write an entire non-fiction picture book about a creature surrounded by more questions than answers, a creature we are essentially in the dark about. Author Candace Fleming undertook the task when she wrote the lyrical text to Giant Squid (Neal Porter Books), leaning into the very nature of what it means to be a scientist when faced with mystery. As with any good creepy book though, she begins with a cold opening to set the scene:
in the depths
of the sunless sea,
in the cold,
It isn't long though, before she begins to pose questions like a thoughtful scientist:
"Who are these giants of the dark seas?
How do they hunt?
How do they eat?
How do they breed?"
What do we know? Candace tells us, we know that they inhabit the deep ocean. We know that their eyes are the size of basketballs. We know they have 8 arms and 2 tentacles. We know they have a hard beak. How do we know all of this? Through pieces of squid that have washed up on shore or have been found in the belly of a sperm whale or from partial specimens dragged up by fishermen. Like a puzzle, scientists are piecing all of the clues together. Some of the questions Candace poses are followed by answers. Some are followed by a hypothesis. Some identify areas where science is still in the dark and those questions are followed by the line "it's a mystery".
Eric Rohmann's haunting illustrations, painted in oil, give glimpses of the squid with each page turn: the arms, the tentacles, the eye, oh gosh.....the beak. The illustrations build off one another in a moody blue crescendo to the moment where we finally see the whole beast in a foldout spread at the end. Each image is carefully rendered with verisimilitude to the degree scientists understand the species. The images in Giant Squid feel like a silent nature documentary, one that an emerging reader could watch again and again at their own pace.
Detailed back matter at the end of the book includes a diagram of squid anatomy, more squid-formation and additional resources. The labeled diagram helped my family construct an anatomically correct giant squid Halloween costume.
Ocean Literacy Principles
Principle 5: The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.
Here is one more example of the great diversity of life found in the ocean. The giant squid, barely understood and unlike anything found on land, stalks creatures in the dark water of the twilight zone while hiding from even larger predators.
Principle 7: The ocean is largely unexplored.
It is incredible that something so large and with so much lore surrounding it, would also be so mysterious and difficult to study. Some of the scientists involved in studying the deep sea have come up with creative ideas and gone to extraordinary lengths to better understand the deep sea, like Edith Widder, who in a TED talk* describes how they tracked down squid in the dark. She hypothesized that when submersibles descend, their lights scare the photo-sensitive creatures of the deep sea who use light as a form of communication. She made a case for being in the dark in the dark, so that at some point science would be a little less in the dark about giant quid, even though it will always be in dark if they are suspended in the deep sea.
With it being Halloween and all...how about a spooky giant squid pumpkin carving template just for fun?
* Edith Widder's TED talk does have one swear word right at the beginning. We recommend previewing it before sharing with your intended audience.