Coral Reefs: A Journey Through an Aquatic World Full of Wonder

Illustrated by Jason Chin

“With so many species living in such a small space, it’s no wonder coral reefs are called cities of the sea.”

The journey begins at the New York Public Library’s flagship location on Fifth Avenue, where a young girl selects this very book about coral reefs from one of the shelves. As she opens the book, the world around her transforms, mirroring the information she is reading about. At first, the change happens gradually, with coral reefs starting to form out of the tables and floor. Then, suddenly, the whole library is flooded and becomes a coral reef, bringing in hundreds of marine animals. As the girl explores this newly formed aquatic world, the book continues to provide facts about life in coral reefs. At the end of the story, the girl emerges from the library and shares the book with her friends. She teaches them about the coral reefs and invites them to join her in her underwater realm.

Coral Reefs: A Journey Through an Aquatic World Full of Wonder is a nonfiction picturebook that immerses readers within a vibrant coral reef ecosystem, reveals its rich biodiversity, and showcases the complex and interconnected relationships among its inhabitants. The book begins by introducing the corals as keystone species, who play a key role in their environment. Covering a mere .5 percent of the ocean floor, coral reefs are home to millions of species and constitute “some of the most complex ecosystems in the world.” Corals work together with algae to provide food, shelter, and protection for thousands of other plants, animals, and bacteria. This is followed by introducing several other important species all of whom “interact in a complex web of relationships” in the coral reef ecosystem. Besides highlighting the importance of predatorprey interactions, the examples provided can be used to open up discussion about food chains, food webs, trophic cascades, and the need for a biologically balanced ecosystem. On the flip side, the book also depicts many examples of symbiotic relationships between different lifeforms, where organisms cooperate and mutually benefit from their interactions with each other. It is important to note that the book does not show a preference towards either predatory or symbiotic relationships. Instead, Chin emphasizes how both systems are needed in order to maintain the thriving web of life. Many of these species are sketched in pencil in the book’s endpages.

Coral Reefs closes with with a brief section about the threats to coral reef ecosystems. These include direct human-caused threats such as pollution and over-fishing, and also natural disasters, such as hurricanes. However, the book claims that the biggest threat to the reefs is climate change. This segment provides an opportunity to consider the harmful impacts of burning of fossil fuels, and rising greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to global warming. One result of these processes is ocean acidification, that causes coral bleaching in which extreme stress causes corals to expel all their algae. Since algae and corals have an intertwined relationship, the corals are not able to survive. As evidenced earlier in the text, the death of the corals has a huge butterfly effect on the rest of the ecosystem, putting the lives of all other reef inhabitants in danger.

Although the future of the reefs is uncertain, Chin provides a list of things that ordinary people can do to help combat the threat to coral reefs. The list includes the principles of reducing, reusing, and recycling; water conservation; ethical sourcing of marine pets; and sustainable transportation. For his last point, Chin advocates for climate literacy education, which can also be found through the book’s illustrated narrative: The girl protagonist’s reading adventure highlights the power of stories to captivate and immerse the audience while also providing factual information. In Coral Reefs, Chin not only encourages audiences to read more about the environmental issues but also encourages everyone to share what they have learned with other people. Raising awareness is a vital step in for helping others grow in their climate literacy and developing an ecocentric mindset.

©2023 ClimateLit (Alexandra Delacruz)


Publisher: Square Fish, 2011

Pages: 40

ISBN: 978-1250079480

Audience: Little People (4-7), Questers (8-13)

Format: Nonfiction, Picturebooks

Science Standards: K-ESS2-2, MS-LS2-4

Topics: Algae, Animal Survival Strategies, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Literacy, Coral Bleaching, Coral Reefs, Corals, Ecocentrism, Ecological Balance, Food Chains, Food Webs, Fossil Fuels, Global Warming, Greenhouse Gases, Habitats, Hurricanes, Interconnectedness, Keystone Species, Marine Conservation, Marine Pets, Marine Pollution, Natural Disasters, Ocean Acidification, Oceans, Overfishing, Predators, Prey, Sustainable Transportation, Symbiosis, Trophic Cascade, Water Conservation, Web of Life