The 3 best ocean books for toddlers, as selected by a very ocean-savvy toddler

It’s been almost exactly a year since I selected the 5 best baby books to launch your child’s ocean education. Since then, our expert judge has gotten a bit more discerning and a lot more opinionated. As a family of marine scientists, our massive library of ocean-themed children’s books, some amazing, some not-so-amazing, seems to grow exponentially.

After critical review by two PhDs in Marine Science and Conservation and one very perspicacious toddler, for both scientific accuracy and pure delightfulness, here are our top 3 children’s books to get your toddler thinking about the ocean.

Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle.

Confession: My very first job in marine science was tending to the seahorse exhibit at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, so I have a pretty big soft spot when it comes to all things seahorse. Mister Seahorse is a journey through all the different ways that male fish can be fathers, from seahorses carrying eggs, to mouth brooders and nest watchers. This book is a masterpiece that deserves every one of the numerous awards it’s received over the years. The art is bright and colorful, the “hide and seek” overlays keep the spat entertained, and the science is solid. Sticklebacks, tilapia, pipefish, and catfish all make an appearance.

The next step: This book is a great launching off point to talk about fish biodiversity and ecology.

Izzy and Oscar by Allison Estes, Dan Stark, and Tracy Dockray.

Izzy wants to be a pirate captain. Oscar is an octopus that washed into town. Octopuses may not be the most traditional pet, but somehow, Izzy makes it work. There’s a surprising amount of cephalopod biology in this goofy story. Dockray’s art is exceptional, especially when Oscar starts deploying his camouflage skills to get out of trouble. There’s also a nice appendix of octopus facts in the back which is a little too advanced for our nauplii but is a handy little reference.

The next step: Octopuses have three hearts. I feel like just discussing how weird that is can fill a solid afternoon.

The Blobfish Book by  Jessica Olien.

Blobfish are the fish we all love to love. They’re dopey, wiggly sacks of oil and fish-bits that live in the deep seas. The titular fish is our enthusiastic guide through a menagerie of deep-sea critters, until he learns the terrible truth: that for some reason we keep declaring him the ocean’s ugliest fish. But all is not bad for the blobfish, he’s got ocean friends to watch his back and show him the respect he deserves.

Biodiversity abounds in the Blobfish Book, which also has a slightly too advanced appendix of ocean facts that serve as a good jumping off point for parents to launch into discussions of just how weird the ocean is.

The next step: Blobfish may be misunderstood, but hagfish are the undisputed champion of wondrous ocean uglies.

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