Connections for the STEM Classroom

GVSU faculty and area experts provide engaging ideas on current topics in research and education

Engaging Youth with Coastal Awareness

A book review of “The Magic Dolphin: A Young Human’s Guide to Beaches, Sea Level Rise and Living by the Sea” by Charles Pilkey and Orrin Pilkey (2018)

by Steve Mattox, Department of Geology, Grand Valley State University

The Magic Dolphin Book Cover

Although we are a Great Lakes state we dream of the ocean, especially in late winter. By April, family and friends revitalize during their Spring Break along the coast from Texas to the Carolinas.  The ocean calls to us. With over half of Americans living within 50 miles of the coast it seems many of us have already decided we’d rather be near the ocean. With less weight and pushed back in our conscious is an awareness that conditions along our coasts are changing: hurricanes continue to break records for their cost and destruction, sea level rise and tides routinely flood coastal cities, and the models scientists publish call for things to get worse. Two coastal geologists with decades of experience recently published an engaging, thoughtful book for young readers. The Magic Dolphin A Young Human’s Guide to Beaches, Sea Level Rise and Living by the Sea is rich in science and fun to read. The style of the book avoids the pitfalls of being too preachy or reading like a boring text.

Let me share my perspective.

As two young children explore the Carolina coast, they find a dolphin entangled in a net. The dolphin whispers, “free me,” and once cut loose, the three become quick friends. A speaking dolphin is magic, but the reader quickly accepts this “hook” and Delphis, the dolphin, is an engaging character. As a reward, Delphis takes the children in day-long, round-the-world tour to visit many of the locations that best illustrate threats to coastal environments and ecosystems. Some examples from their tour are: the melting of Greenland is connected to sea level rise; sand is taken to make concrete from dunes in Morocco; at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch they save a turtle; and man-made structures trap sand and starve beaches near Miami. In each case, the natural processes are well explained along with the human interventions that disrupt them. The book concludes with Delphis calling for the children to be a lighthouse of knowledge, telling other people, especially slow learning elders, to live in harmony with the sea.


An example of Delphis’ wise conclusion about living near the ocean

Scotch Bonnet shell

Many elements of the book make for good reading and learning. All of the characters are enjoyable with their own personalities. Delphis even makes jokes. Events and insights from most chapters commonly loop back to the impacts noticed back home on the Carolina coast. The illustrations are excellent, accurate, and add to the story. Most chapters are about ten pages long and each ends with a concise statement from Delphis, such as, “Beach mining starves a beach of sand, robs a beach of its life and makes beach houses more likely to be damaged by storms.”  Upper elementary and middle school students will have no problem reading the text (readability scores of 6 to 7) and I think teachers and parents would enjoy reading The Magic Dolphin to younger children.


The book is available on Amazon for $18.

Page last modified May 18, 2018