Kai’s Ocean Of Curiosities by Joséphine Topolanski

Well, for the most part it’s by Joséphine Topolanski. I feel like a number of liberties have been taken in the English translation by Johanna McCalmont, but as I don’t have the full text of the original French to compare it with, I’ll mostly have to make educated guesses as to what survived translation.

The art definitely did, tho, which is awesome because the art is a huge selling point of this gorgeous kid’s book. Ms Topolanski specializes in print-making, and the linocut-inspired art throughout the book is a wonderful example of this. Most of the underwater scenes are done in blue and white, with the occasional yellow or red highlight, usually for Kai’s equipment or for Kai herself. There’s a double-page spread of marine biology at the back that is just magnificent, and includes a list of each plant and creature’s common name.

The story itself revolves around Kai, a young girl who likes exploring the ocean floor. This exploration sometimes feels more fanciful than scientifically rigorous, even if one accepts the conceit of Kai being able to pilot underwater alone. Which, to be clear, I was happy to do! Sometimes, the best way to teach scientific fact is with a framing of scientific fiction. But the bit about shoals of fish shying away from her red protective suit made me raise an eyebrow, and I absolutely cringed when she reached out to touch the coral. Aside from harming yourself — and cuts from coral are notorious for taking weeks, even months to heal — you could harm a fragile ecosystem. Far better to just admire by looking, or even taking a picture.

The original French version of this book centers around a boy named Basile. I can see why this was changed to a young girl, tho I’m so used to Kai being a boy’s name (SIXTY MILLION DOWN THE DRAIN!! Iykyk, lol) that it seems an unusual choice. I was also a little surprised by the advanced vocabulary used here. The target audience is allegedly 4-8, but I’d be very impressed at anyone younger than 6 being able to read this on their own.

This is definitely the kind of book to encourage any young reader’s interest in marine biology, even if it isn’t the most scientifically rigorous. It’s beautiful, tho, and will likely foster more inquiries into a fascinating field.

Kai’s Ocean Of Curiosities by Joséphine Topolanski was published April 9 2024 by Blue Dot Kids Press and is available from all good booksellers, including

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