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Outside in and Under the Sea -- A Picture Book and a Graphic Novel

Updated: Apr 24, 2021

Book cover for Outside In by Deborah Underwood and Cindy Derby.

Title: Outside In

Author: Deborah Underwood

Illustrator: Cindy Derby

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020

2020 Caldecott Honor

Themes: Nature, Earth Day, Reconnecting, ecosystems

Ages: Everyone

Opening Lines:

Once we were part of Outside and Outside was part of us. There was nothing between us.

Why I love this book:

I love Cindy Derby's ability to create expressive art. It's is elegant, quirky, and perfectly imperfect.

Image from book, Girl on wooden chair looking at the cast shadow that is of the trees that made the chair.

As a person who loves nature and being outside as much as possible, this story still reminds me that the things I have in my home come from nature. No matter how much time you spend outdoors, you always have a connection to nature in your home. Yet, we need to experience nature to develop the connection between us and the earth.

Yesterday, I took a little walk. I went with my camera, my tiny sketchbook, and a pen. I walked to the forest preserve near my house. The trees are leafing out, the woodland flowers are in bloom, and birds sing and call from high in the trees. I stopped at a patch of bluebells. They always pull me in.

Photograph of bluebells from the ground up. Copyright S. Tobias

The sun was warm, the colors were inviting, and I could have laid there for hours. I sketched and wrote a little poem. I heard voices of an adult and children behind me. The adult said "She's focusing." The children replied, "She's focusing really good." This made me laugh. Then the person said my name. It shouldn't be surprising that I saw someone I knew so close to my house, but it was better than that. It was a friend I haven't seen since the beginning of the pandemic. Bluebells and friends. What a wonderous day!

Deborah Underwood has a beautiful way with words. She sees the world in such a lovely way and reminds us to connect or reconnect with the world.

Added April 24th (Saturday)

As a writer and illustrator, I spend time looking really closely at books, details like page count, how the book is designed, thinking about the language and flow of words; Does it rhyme, is it lyrical, where are the page turns and why are they there, etc.

For this book, I decided to copy out the text, I wanted to "feel" it even more deeply, and I think I needed to separate the art from the text. Cindy's art style is incredibly emotional and wild and free. I wanted to think about just the words for a bit.

First, this story is 40 pages and has just 176 (if I counted correctly) words. That's packing so much meaning in so few words. It also left the illustrator room to create the imagery and an even deeper story.

The second thing I noticed was that Outside is capitalized even in the middle of a sentence. At first, I thought it was to emphasize the word. Then a big aha moment hit. Outside is the main character. This is a story written in 3rd person and the character is Outside. Inside and in the art is a child, that child is you the reader.


As I recall, in poetry this is a mask poem. Happy poetry month.

Cover Art for Science Comics Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean a Non-fiction Graphic Novel by Maris Wicks

Title: Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean

Author/Illustrator: Maris Wicks

Series: Science Comics

Publisher: First Second, 2016

Themes: coral reefs, ocean, ecosystems, sea life

Ages: 8 and up

Opening page:

Opening page, six panels from the big universe narrowing in to a small island.

The next page takes you closer to the island, and then under water to the coral. There, you meet the narrator, a cute fish wearing glasses. The fish talks directly to the reader, involving you, even asking you to back up a bit as you got too close.

Why I love this book:

So packed full of information on coral, reefs, and the complete ecosystem. The comic/graphic novel format is a great way to pull in kids who love graphic novels. Maris includes great humorous moments that make information sticky.

From that first wordless page, through the whole book, we learn about the tiny corals, their algae friends, and the relationship that a reef has with earth.

Resources and Activities:

Get outside. Enjoy the spring weather and see what you discover. When you notice something unique, pretty, cool, weird, interesting, or confusing take a photo. Create a Nine Things I Noticed photo montage.

Nine photoe of nature things. A Deer, a Chipmunk, leaves, mushrooms, clouds, a smiley face, flowers and a beaver den
Nine Things I Noticed

Check out Maris' website. She has some great activities and resources.

If you have access to National Geographic Channel and the magazine Check out the Wonders of Whales.

Spend a week tracking the nature in your yard or outside your classroom. Make drawings, write words, or poems. You can track it on this phenology wheel. You can track the weather, sunrise and sunset times, anything you notice.

week phenology wheel
Download PDF • 182KB

Here is on of my weeks of tracking. I started this project at the end of 2020 and am still going.

Phenology Wheel

Pair the Coral Reef book with Kate Messner's The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World's Coral Reefs. Be sure to check out CoralRestorationFoundation on Instagram for updates on their work.

The Science Comics series has books on many topics of science. It would make a great collection for a kids personal library, a school library, and the public library. I know I will be picking up more and when I'm done, I will share them in a local Little Free Library.

You can find these books at, your local independent book store, your library or Amazon.

(The links are affiliate links. I'm not in this for the money, just trying to get you the quickest way to get the book for your kids, your library, or your school classroom. At, I have begun a few booklists including my Perfect Picture Book Friday and my Graphic novel picks. I recently added a middle grade and an adult book list.)

Check out Susanna Hill's Perfect Picture Book Friday Blog to discover more cool books to read with your kids and add to your collection.

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1 Comment

Two very different books that honor nature. Love it! I have Outside In and find it so lovely. The Science comics look fun and informational, a great combo! And I'll have to try out this phenology wheel, something I've never done.

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