How the Sea Came to Be: An Illustrated Singsong Celebration of the Evolution of Life on Our Pale Blue Dot
By Maria Popova
“Who has known the ocean? Neither you nor I, with our earth-bound senses,” Rachel Carson wrote in the pioneering 1937 essay that invited the human imagination into the science and splendor of the marine world for the first time — a world then more mysterious than the Moon, a world that makes of Earth the Pale Blue Dot that it is.
In the near-century since, we have made great strides in illuminating the wonderland of the sea — from the birth of sonar and the revelations of the first submersibles to our ongoing discoveries of astonishing sea creatures. And yet even so, we have only explored about a tenth of the world’s waters. The oceans, which comprise 99% of the living space on our planet and make it a world, remain largely a mystery — the mystery out of which we emerged to walk the land, to make books and mathematics, to invent sonar and love.
Author Jennifer Berne and artist Amanda Hall celebrate our footholds of knowledge amid the mystery in How the Sea Came to Be (And All the Creatures In It) (public library) — a singsong chronicle of how Earth went from roiling rock to living wonderland, pulsating with the elemental poetry of nature.
Volcanoes exploded from inside the Earth.
They blazed and they blasted and boomed.
And comets and asteroids crashed out of the sky,
icy and rocky they zoomed.
Earth sizzled and simmered for millions of years.
It bubbled and burbled and hissed.
It raged and it rumbled, it thundered and boiled,
spewing lava and steamy hot mist.
And then the slow cooling and firming, the crumpling of mountains and valleys, the formation of the atmosphere, the first clouds and the first rain — pouring down “for days and for nights, for thousands of years,” giving birth to the sea, giving birth to life itself.
Then something amazing, unseen, and so new
appeared in the shining blue sea…
The teeniest, tiniest stirrings of life
came to be, in the sea, came to be.
Though smaller than small, and adrift in the seas,
one became two became four.
For millions of years these first bits of life
became more, and then more, and then more.
This was the great explosion of adaptation and transformation, out of which eventually arose the tiniest plankton and the great blue whale, jellyfish that “move with a watery sigh” and fish that “look silvery when seen from below to disguise them as light from the sky,” the octopus (that wonder of consciousness) and the eel (that living enigma).
The story unfolds to trace the evolution of life from the ocean to the land, ending with a scene of children playing in the tide pool from which they came as the waves go on lapping at the shore of the ocean to which they will one day return.
Complement How the Sea Came to Be with Rachel Carson on the ocean and the meaning of life and why the sea is blue, then revisit a lovely picture-book biography of Albert Einstein, also written by Jennifer Berne, and a lovely picture-book biography of Henri Rousseau, also illustrated by Amanda Hall.
Published December 10, 2023