CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 18. . . . May 9, 2003
One day, I was working away on the sea bed when I felt a tug on my fin. I looked around into the puppy face of a Weddell seal. Adult seals usually stay away from people underwater, but this one was a youngster who hadn't yet learned to be cautious.
I had the feeling I was being checked out as a possible playmate. The seal rested its head in the cup of my outstretched hand-almost as if it were sniffing. I rubbed my hand down its body as it drifted by. Then it rolled over on its back, did a graceful somersault and reached for my fin again.
Most of Under the Ice is a photographic and written record of trips made to Antarctica in the 1990s by Kathy Conlan, a research biologist with the Canadian Museum of Nature. Her main interest on these trips was to study the effects of man's presence on the polar environment and the interesting creatures that live there. The book opens with chapters on Conlan's youth and a trip she made inside the Arctic Circle.
The main purpose of Under the Ice is to give children a glimpse of the natural environment of Antarctica. It does this mainly with photographs. Many of the photographs of the sea creatures Conlan encountered are fascinating because they are so unusual and beyond the experience of almost everyone who picks up her book. All are in colour. A number of them, at less than 5 x 7 centimeters, however, are too small to be of much value. The largest, taken under the polar ice cap, are wonderful and give the reader a taste of the amazing world Conlan experienced on her dives. They will stimulate every child's imagination.
The descriptions accompanying Conlan's photos are brief, too brief for the older readers in the recommended age range. This limits the book's suitability to all but the youngest. Those intrigued by such peculiar life forms as "spiky dogs" and "ribbon worms" will need to turn to other sources to satisfy their curiosity. Those who don't will get little from the book other than the fact that Antarctica has some very odd creatures indeed. Some terms with which children will not be familiar are defined in brackets in the body of the text. These are useful.
Another purpose in Under the Ice is to stimulate in children some of Conlan's enthusiasm for the region near the South Pole. In this, the book succeeds through the pictures alone.
Conlan is not a natural writer. Her style is conversational. This approach should appeal to young readers who will find her book easy to follow. The chapters are short, often only two pages. This structure also makes the book suitable for younger readers. It can be used both for educational and recreational purposes.
The book has no introduction. It is, therefore, not clear what it is about. The first chapter, "My Dream," does not suffice. It only confuses because, while Conlan mentions that her dream is diving under the Antarctic ice, the accompanying photo shows her crouching inside a cave hollowed out of an iceberg.
Thomas F. Chambers is a retired college teacher who lives in North Bay, ON.
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