Sea Horse:
The Shyest Fish in the Sea
written by Chris Butterworth
illustrated by John Lawrence

Chris Butterworth's Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish in the Sea
illustrated by John Lawrence

Book review by Justine Greer

Ages 3-6

An eye-catching and educational underwater adventure

A beautiful, beautiful book. Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish in the Sea is a non-fiction peek into the everyday life of a Barbour's sea horse, who makes his way from page to page amidst a backdrop of oft-changing creatures and vegetation.

This will be the book to awaken an interest in ocean life in your child, and lead to further learning in that area.

Review - Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish in the Sea

Shy little sea horse swims along in his idiosyncratic vertical fashion, camouflaging to hide from his few enemies, rendezvousing with his one true love, gestating and giving birth to his hundreds of children.

Cropped, collaged images from Chris Butterworth's 'Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish in the Sea,' illustrated by John Lawrence.

Young readers will be fascinated by the male sea horse’s role in the carrying of offspring; this poses a great opportunity for discussing the concepts of “male” and “female” as they relate to reproduction, or even the idea of gender roles being subverted in such a fundamental way.

The focus switches from daddy to daughter as one of his female babies is swept into the current to begin life all by herself, fully functioning and capable immediately following her birth.

Rather than feeling anxious for the tiny adolescent as she fends for herself, we feel excited for her to experience what is presented as a largely peaceful life. After all, we’ve learned that she can look forward to having virtually no predators, enjoying an enduring partnership with a faithful mate … and escaping the rigours of pregnancy and childbirth of course!

Instead of featuring photographs, which are par for the course in non-fiction books, The Shyest Fish in the Sea is an illustrated work, and the illustrations are absolutely remarkable.

Such a fascinating subject deserves an equally stunning visual treatment, and illustrator Lawrence does not disappoint. His unerring colour sense and use of negative space, in addition to the technical proficiency of his vinyl and wood engravings (think of all those tiny sea horse spines!) does justice not only to sea horses in all of their intricate glory, but their whole gorgeous aquatic world.

The story-like writing is, above all, accessible. Author Butterworth gives a lot of information without ever bombarding her audience, and with a refreshingly uncondescending simplicity. This cannot be overstated, since children’s non-fiction offerings tend to do one of two things:

  • talk down to their readers or,
  • present a plethora of facts and images crazy-collaged over intimidating double-page spreads.

Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish in the Sea strikes the perfect balance of informative and interesting, child-friendly and parent-approved. Clear, concise and visually striking, this book will stand up to re-readings because it provides its audience with a real sense of being beneath the waves, cheering on a magical-looking creature as it goes about its everyday life.

More science books.

More reviews.

Eric Carle's Mister Seahorse (reviewed on site).

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