Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Stormy Crossing: Kobee Manatee: A Wild Weather Adventure by Robert Scott Thayer

"The skies are clear here in Key West. "Are you guys ready to go," I asked.

"Aye Aye, sir!" said Tess.

"Let's go, captain," Pablo replied.

We left for Nassau, in the Bahamas, the home of my sister Kim. I wanted to surprise her on her birthday.

Kobee Manatee is well suited for long ocean trips, being a gifted floater, insulated by a thick layer of blubber. His buddies, Tess, a fancy seahorse and Pablo, a hermit crab, are experienced sea creatures, but not well-equipped for what happens next.

Kobee's innate GPS steers a steady course, but his weather-predicting senses are apparently not so well developed. The brash bunch sets off gaily in fair weather, with Kobee swimming at a slow, but steady five-miles-an-hour clip under fair skies. But soon Pablo spots some wispy, trailing clouds showing up in the blue sky as they pass Key Largo.

"Cirrus clouds!" Kobee observes, and the fact box at the bottom of the right-hand page, Kobee's Fun Facts, points out that cirrus clouds, sometimes known colloquially as "mare's-tale clouds," herald a change in the weather.

And whether or not they expect it, the three mariners are soon hit by a succession of weather events, a water spout, a massive thunder-and-lightning storm presaged by a shelf cloud, and Tess and Pablo are blown clear off Kobee's big belly and have to swim for their lives back to their big gray life preserver. Luckily, the storm blows itself out and the sailors are blessed with the familiar fair-weather cumulus clouds in their sky.

But it's only a momentary respite. Before they know it, they find themselves in the warm and wild Gulf Stream, an river of tropical water which warms the eastern coast of the U.S and even the western coast of Europe, but also is a potent weather creator. Poor little Tess is carried off in a rip current, but being a well-taught pupil of Kobee's she knows just what to do.

"I was really scared, but I just floated, and then swam out of the current when I could."

But there's not much respite for the three ocean-goers, because "spinning scaly clouds" soon appear on the horizon.

"Yikes! They bring dangerous weather!" yelps Kobee.

And at least this prognostication of Kobee's is on track. In short order they three navigators are hit by a giant rogue wave that tosses even Kobee about like a sock in a washing machine, followed by a full-blown, hard-blowing hurricane. Yikes is right! The three batten down their figurative hatches and hang tight through the eye of the hurricane, as Kobee points out that the wind direction reverses as they go back into the other side of the storm.

But on the other side of the big storm, they are rewarded with sunny skies and the sight of the beautiful reefs off the coast of Nausau. And soon it's party time in the blessedly still waters of sister Kim's Blue Lagoon, in Robert Scott Thayer's latest in series, KOBEE MANATEE: A Wild Weather Adventure (Thompson Mill Press, 2015). This book doubles a weather-study lesson with a bit of oceanography thrown in for free. Kobee is a jolly gentle giant of a narrator. Manatees are popular ocean mammals, big and slow, non-threatening vegetarians, but endangered, beloved of children and tourists, and Kobee makes a fine explainer-in-chief for his pupils, Tess and Pablo, along with the treasure-map-style Fun Facts boxes which fill in the details of Kobee's floating lessons, making this engaging story an easy, reinforcing read for curriculum content in the early elementary grades.

Artist and designer Lauren Gallegos fills the book with flamboyant, full-bleed acrylic illustrations with plenty of detail to keep the story, er, flowing freely right to the Happy Birthday party with Kobee playing and singing a special song for his sister (CD included) and for an under-the-sea party to celebrate the end of the unit.

Another book in this buoyant series is Kobee Manatee: Heading Home to Florida.

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