Giant Squid: Mystery of the Deep (Book)

Review by nanoteuthis
Giant Squid: Mystery of the Deep (Book)
by Jennifer Dussling, illustrated by Pamela Johnson, with photos, paperback, 48 pp.,

publ. American Museum of Natural History
(Grosset & Dunlap, NY), 1999

A Book Review by nanoteuthis

This charming little volume, part of the All Aboard Reading series, is designated as a Level 2 book (for children in Grades 1 through 3). It is unique in its subject matter, since to my knowledge – while there are many books at this reading level with an Octopus theme – there are very few dealing with Architeuthis.

For TONMO squidlings in the early elementary grades, GIANT SQUID: MYSTERY OF THE DEEP is a wonderful introduction to the world of our favorite mega-ceph. For TONMO parents, there are references to people and events in contemporary teuthology that offer a delightful sense of déja-vu. And the beautifully vivid illustrations and exciting photos – all in full color – make this book a work to be treasured by cephalofans of all ages.

The first pleasant surprise for grown-up TONMOers appears in small print on the dedication page. It reads, "Thanks are given to Dr. Neil H. Landman, Dr. Paula Mikkelsen, Dr. Steve O'Shea [emphasis mine], and all of the AMNH Squid Team." But that isn't the last mention of our own Steve-O' in this delightful book! He appears, not by name but by allusion, in Chapter One, where Kiwi fishermen who haul up a 25 ft. Archi carcass "know there's one man who will be very happy to hear about" their bizarre catch. Steve-O' is also alluded to in Chapter Two, where Dr. Landman (while vacationing in Italy), receives a late-night phone call from "a friend from New Zealand" who "is also a squid expert."

The book's narrative follows the true-life adventure story of the "AMNH Giant Squid", from its discovery off New Zealand in December 1997, to its study by the American Museum of Natural History's Squid Team in NYC, June 1998. Along the way, the young reader is given fascinating information on what we currently know (as of 1999) about Giant Squid. The book makes it very clear that these great creatures are not "monsters", and that there are no recorded instances of them attacking humans, despite the fearsome legends of the Kraken. Ms. Dussling's text takes a refreshingly positive approach to Archis, eschewing sensationalism and even referring to the animal's beak as "beautiful". She also shares amazing Archi facts with her young readers – the enormous eyes, the gender dimorphism (large females, smaller males), the diet of fish, shrimp, and smaller squid, etc.

Wisely, Ms. Dussling has taken care to emphasize what we did NOT yet know about Architeuthis at her writing – whether Archis are bioluminescent, whether they can change color to camouflage themselves, and whether they ink defensively as many other cephs do. While teuthologists have made great progress towards answering these questions, the Giant Squid will remain a "mystery of the deep" until we are finally able to document the behavior of living adults.

Ms. Johnson's superb color illustrations appear on nearly every page, plus there are two full-color photos of the preserved Archi being examined by the AMNH Squid Team. Interestingly enough, some of the Archis in the illustrations are depicted in a horizontal position, while others are depicted head-downward at an angle. This may indicate that Johnson wished to give "equal representation" to both of the current theories about Architeuthis posture in the water column. There is also the obligatory Archi vs. Sperm Whale illustration depicting "a battle between these two mighty creatures," but Dussling's text is quick to explain that such a battle has never been seen by humans, and the only indications we have of them are beaks in Whales' stomachs and sucker-scars on Whales' skin. The pages describing Archi locomotion include illustrations of the creatures, with arrows indicating where water enters through the mantle and exits through the funnel to produce movement. And, as a high-eight to the Octofan contingent, there is a lovely two-page illustration of Octopuses to go along with the text describing Squids as their "cousins".

One of the nicest touches is inside the front cover of the book -- a "Great Reader!" certificate where the young reader can sign his or her name to confirm that "I have read it all by myself!" GIANT SQUID: MYSTERY OF THE DEEP is a welcome addition to the cephalo-family library, and earns a perfect score of 8 out of 8 Tentacles!

-- TD 4/2/03
  • Published
    Feb 22, 2015
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