Everything you want to know about vernal pools and estuaries – in wonderful childrens’ books

The Secret Bay by Kimberly RidleyThe Secret Pool and The Secret Bay by Kimberly Ridley are cleverly written and beautifully illustrated books, with poetic stories that appeal to younger kids, factual sidebars for older kids, and additional information that is both interesting and informative.

The Secret Pool, which won many awards, was published by Tilbury House in Thomaston in 2013. It’s all about vernal pools, those special habitats that are so important to so many critters, from spotted salamanders to wood frogs. I loved this description of wood frogs in the sidebar to the story: “Wood frogs survive the winter in an amazing way. They crawl under the leaves and freeze into frogsicles.” Yummy!

I enjoy hearing the wood frogs in the early spring. Follow their calls and you may find your own vernal pool. We have several vernal pools in my Mount Vernon neighborhood, including one big one in my woodlot, and I thought I knew a lot about them until I read this book. The book is actually an excellent guide for a walk around the forest in your neighborhood.

So yes, these books will entertain and inform adults as well as kids. The illustrations in both books were done by Rebekah Raye, and she is one very talented young lady.

The Secret Bay was published by Tilbury House in 2015. It’s all about estuaries, those places where rivers meet the sea and fresh and salt water mix. I had no idea they are so important to our environment, or how many fish, birds, crabs, worms, and more live there, even though I have hunted and fished in estuaries all my life.

The informative sidebars contain tons of information about estuaries, and I learned a lot from reading them. The audience for this book is said to be ages 6-11, so it will be perfect for my two grandsons, but I think the poetry, and Raye’s wonderful artistry, would entertain all ages, including adults. In this book, all of the birds and other critters that Raye drew are named, a helpful thing for all of us who want to learn more about these critters.

I took special note of the piece on horseshoe crabs. As Ridley reported, they are critically important to Red Knots. I’ve written about Red Knots, whose numbers have greatly diminished, mostly due to the commercial harvest of horseshoe crabs along the east coast of the United States. Indeed, a number of critters in this book are now endangered.

I really liked the section of the book called, “Great Escapes” that explains how estuary creatures avoid predators. I had no idea that a crab, grabbed by a predator, can release its claw or leg and escape. Amazing!

These are books you will read often, savor, and treasure, for your kids, your grandkids, and for yourself. I’ve already read each book twice, and I haven’t had a chance yet to read them to my grandchildren!

The poetic story in The Secret Bay really captured my interest, including this passage:

With sunshine in springtime, salt water, and goop,

I stir up big batches of green plankton soup.

It feeds lots of sea life, which then can feed you –

Every time you eat crab cakes or slurp seafood stew.

As a lover of both seafood stew and crab cakes, I’ll think of this book – and be thankful for coastal estuaries – every time I have them in the future!


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.