Water Sings Blue

Ocean Poems

Come down to the shore with this rich and vivid celebration of the ocean! With watercolors gorgeous enough to wade in by award-winning artist Meilo So and playful, moving poems by Kate Coombs, Water Sings Blue evokes the beauty and power, the depth and mystery, and the endless resonance of the sea.

Honors and Awards

  • Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award 2013
  • Four starred reviews (Booklist, School Library Journal, Kirkus, Library Media Connection)
  • National Council of Teachers of English Notable Book 2013
  • American Library Association Notable Children’s Book 2013
  • One of Kirkus’s Best Books of the Year—Children’s Books 2012
  • Wall Street Journal—Meghan Cox Gurdon’s 12 Favorite Picture Books and Chapter Books of 2012
  • Cybils Finalist for Poetry 2012
Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems

How did this book come to be written?

This is actually the skeleton of a thorny starfish. (They are now called sea stars because they aren’t fish.) Doesn’t it look like a little spaceship?

I used to pick up small shells on the beach in Southern California as a child. Then when I was eight or nine, I got my hands on a treasure trove! My neighbor’s great-aunt had spent her last years beachcombing in Tahiti, and one of the things she left my neighbor when she passed away was a metal box full of shells. My neighbor wasn’t at all interested in that sort of thing, so she gave the box to me. I kept the box for years, taking out shells for school projects and to decorate my house with and just to look at.

In the summer, our family often went to Leo Carrillo Beach near Camarillo, the town where I grew up. My brother and sister and I would boogie board, which was like surfing, but easier—you used a short Styrofoam board and lay on your stomach. I remember lying on my board out past the wave line, feeling the sun hot on my back and the water cool around my legs. (Doing that, it was important not to think about sharks!)

I’ve had this pink conch for many years.

I also remember later, as an adult, going to the aquarium in Long Beach, California and looking at a dark cylindrical tank filled with small moon jellyfish. It was a magical sight.

One day I wrote a poem about a jellyfish, comparing it to one of those old-fashioned glass cake dishes that looks like a ruffled bell jar. That got me started. Eventually I wrote a lot of poems about the ocean and ocean animals, doing some research and making a very long list of topics to work off of. I wrote about 80 poems, which my editor whittled down to 23 for the book.

Another little story: I had completed the collection and was having lunch with a friend. When I told her about the poems, she said, “Oh, good. My son loves sea turtles!” Whereupon I realized that I had not written a poem about sea turtles! I went home and tried to write one, but the poem just wasn’t working. Finally I gave up and wrote it a completely different way. So, thanks to Benjamin, there’s a sea turtle poem in Water Sings Blue!

This is a spiny murex. I’ve always wanted to own one and finally ordered it from a Florida seashell dealer!
If you take the rough exterior off of an abalone shell, you can see the gorgeous mother-of-pearl layer beneath. Made of nacre, it is often used for jewelry and other decorative items.
I like the name of this one as much as the shell: Chiragra spider conch.

About the Illustrator


Meilo So

Meilo So was born in Hong Kong but went to school in England and now lives in Scotland on the Shetland Islands. Meilo has been drawing since she was five and likes to illustrate stories that are “kind and optimistic.” In describing Water Sings Blue, School Library Journal reviewer Betsy Bird said, “Next up, hellooooooo potential 2013 Caldecott contender. Or rather, 2013 Caldecott contender were it not for the small problem that the illustrator lives in the Shetland Islands.” The artwork is just that good! I’m the author and have looked at the book many times, but I continue to be in awe of the beauty of these illustrations.


“Varied in form and tone as well as subject, these short, precisely worded poems offer new takes on seemingly familiar subjects and subtly shift the reader’s ways of seeing. So’s watercolor illustrations work in tandem with the playful, evocative verse, taking key words and ideas as inspiration for brilliantly watery scenes… An excellent source of verse for reading aloud.”
—Booklist (starred review)

“A jaunty 'Song of the Boat' opens this evocative collection designed to capture the life and spirit of the sea. The 23 pieces showcase a range of poetic forms while looking at each subject from a unique and interesting perspective… The loose watercolors are beautifully rendered and take readers deeper inside the heart of the verses...”
—School Library Journal (starred review)

“The versatile Coombs shows she’s as adept at poetry as she is at concocting or adapting fairy tales... Varied rhyme and rhythmic patterns and surprising connections characterize these relatively short poems, which read aloud well and stick in the memory. There’s humor, interesting language and intriguing imagery, as when the Gulper Eel’s 'astronomical maw' is compared to a black hole... So’s wavery, water illustrations extend the poems’ meaning… Share this admirable appreciation with a wide audience.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Personifying the inhabitants of the shore in these poems opens a new window for those who have not experienced them. This collection is a way to experience the shore without bringing home sand in your shoes.”
—Library Media Connection (starred review)

“A feeling of sweet delicacy pervades the pages of Water Sings Blue, a picture-book collection of mostly light maritime poems by Kate Coombs set amid Meilo So’s exquisite watercolors.”
—Meghan Cox Gurdon, Wall Street Journal

Water Sings Blue is a collection of poems about the seaside and the ocean, and it’s one of the most beautiful picture books I’ve seen thus far in 2012... In fact, the spread for 'What the Waves Say' is my new reigning Favorite Spread of 2012, and we’ll see if another comes along to top it.”
—Julie Daniels, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

“The ocean itself is the star of So’s beautiful art, whether in translucent underwater greens, intense blue against a dazzling white horizon, or simply as splashes of color and light.”
—Horn Book