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Marie Tharp, a pioneer of oceanic research

Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor

Robert Burleigh
Simon & Schuster
40 pp.
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Age Range: 4 – 8 years

Grade Level: Preschool – 3

Sexism and the bottom of the sea: These disparate topics don’t sound like the stuff of children’s lit, but this charming book manages to offer insights into both, while still being appropriate for 4- to 8-year-olds. The story is told from the point of view of Marie Tharp, a real-life scientist who is credited as being the first to map the bottom of the ocean, thus confirming the theory of continental drift. As a female scientist in the 1940s, Tharp faced countless obstacles to her dreams of oceanographic research. The book does a good job of simplifying these issues to suit a young readership; it mentions that back then it was still considered bad luck to allow women on ships and that other scientists didn’t take her seriously, and smartly leaves it at that. But more than just a history, the book also gives an explanation of how she used soundings (echoes of sound waves measured to indicate ocean depth) to painstakingly piece together the geography of the ocean floor. This somewhat complex process is made simple through the book’s careful, engaging language and by the charming illustrations that accompany it. The soft colored-pencil images depict Marie Tharp gazing meaningfully into the ocean and the colorful topography of her maps with equal whimsy. The world today is, thankfully, better in many ways than it was in the mid–20th century, but women still face obstacles to success in science. Children—both girls and boys—need stories like Tharp’s.