Sometimes things don’t go the way you expect. That’s the case in the story I read to my 6-year-old twins this week, as well as the activity we did afterward.
The Specific Ocean by Kyo Maclear
The Specific Ocean (affiliate), by Kyo Maclear, tells the story of a girl who goes on a family vacation to the gray Pacific coastline. She begins the trip unwilling and resentful of leaving home. Then, on the third day, she ventures to the beach. After a chilly swim, she’s hooked.
When it’s time to go home, she doesn’t want to leave. She wishes she could take the ocean home with her in a big bowl. Her brother convinces her that she shouldn’t take even a jar-full.
On the last page, she’s home in the city. She realizes that she did bring the ocean with her after all because it’s “deep down inside of [her]. Calm. Blue. Ruffled. Gray. Playful. Green. Mysterious. Black. Foggy. Silver. Roaring. White.”
The illustrations, by Katty Maurey, match the language, both in color and in tone - spare yet compelling. The whole book brought me back to my own trips to (and on) the ocean.
Before kids, I lived on the Pacific coast. Now I live in Texas, and the “ocean” my kids know is the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf, with its shallow sunny waters, is a far cry from the Pacific. My kids can’t imagine not wanting to go. Nevertheless, my twins, Sophie, and Isabella, enjoyed the story.
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Reading Comprehension Lesson
My girls didn’t understand how an ocean could be “inside” you. At their age, they take everything completely literally. I had to do quite a bit of explaining.
As a former middle school reading teacher, I know that kids need practice in order to comprehend multiple levels of meaning in literature. Yet, if we hold their hands, even younger children can be brought to understanding.
Of course, it helps to make it fun! My kids and I talked about what they remember from visits to the beach. We talked about how they still remember what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like. And how, in a way, that makes the ocean inside them too. Then, we set out to illustrate the idea.
Paint Memories of the Ocean
I imagined making life-sized outlines of each girl, and then painting the ocean inside those outlines. They would paint waves and childlike sea creatures. It would be gorgeous.
We unrolled white butcher paper onto the floor and traced each girl with a pencil. It turns out that Sophie is so ticklish that some of our lines were really squiggly! Those mistakes were easily erased and fixed, though.
Then, we set up a paint area out in the garage. I taped the large paper to the floor so it wouldn’t roll. I squeezed washable tempera paint onto plates and provided some foam brushes. My directions to them were to paint the ocean inside the outlines of their bodies.
Then Isabella refused.
I think she understood the concept, but she didn’t want to illustrate it. Always an independent girl, she preferred to paint herself at the beach. She insisted I mix paint to achieve the color of sand. So much for my brilliant idea.
I rolled with it, and she still enjoyed painting on such a large surface. It was fun seeing her put her whole body into it.
Sophie’s picture went more the way I’d planned. She swirled blues and greens inside the shape of her legs and trunk. Then she switched to yellow and used her fingers to apply it within the outline of her shoulders. She topped it off with a beach house inside the shape of her head.
I look at this whole project as process art. The results aren’t stunning, but the experience was fun and educational.
Heather is a reading and social studies teacher turned stay-at-home-mom of three children. She writes Books and Giggles, a newish blog about parenting and literacy, picture books, and kids’ activities.