Friday, May 12, 2023

These books will Light Up your Life!

Ooh! Two books about things that light up in the dark!

Theme: nature, animals, glow-in-the-dark

Lights On!: Glow-in-the-Dark Deep Ocean Creatures 
by Donna B. McKinney; illus. by Daniella Ferretti 
32 pages; ages 4-8
Yeehoo Press, 2023

Near the ocean’s surface, the first rays of sunrise bathe the waters. Here fish, seals, and turtles swim, splash, and eat in a world lit by sunlight.

But down below, where the sunlight doesn’t reach … where it’s always dark as night, what do the creatures do? Vampire squid and lantern fish carry their own light. Pocket sharks and jellies glow in the dark. Some animals use their bioluminescence to find a mate, others to trick prey, and others to escape from a predator. There’s a lot of action going on down in the deep, dark sea.

What I like about this book: There are flaps! Beneath each flap is a tidbit of information that adds to what is on the page. For example, the spread introducing pocket sharks: lift the flap to learn how this shark got its name. I like the contrast between what’s happening in the upper, surface layers of the ocean and the action in the darkest deep waters. To do that, the book was designed to be turned by the reader. This creates long, vertical spreads. And there’s back matter, where Donna introduces the term “bioluminescence” and gives some fun facts.

I wanted to know a bit more about Lights On! so I asked Donna a couple questions:

Me: Whose idea was it to create the flaps? 

Donna: My editor, Molly Shen Yao, suggested the flaps. I had submitted the story to Yeehoo with that additional informational text positioned as sidebars (text boxes). In the editing process, Molly suggested putting the sidebar material under flaps. I loved the idea and I hope my readers will enjoy the flaps!

Me: Upon opening the book, readers have to turn it so they can get a tall vertical look. How did this come about?

Donna: Editor Molly gets credit for that, too. Because each art spread in the book reflects what's happening above the ocean surface and at the ocean depths, she thought the vertical orientation would give the illustrator more freedom to reflect that ocean depth. I love how the illustrator, Daniella Ferretti, was able to use that vertical space, showing what was happening from sky to ocean depths in each spread. 

Luminous: Living Things That Light Up the Night 
by Julia Kuo 
44 pages; ages 4-8
‎Greystone Kids, 2022

When it’s dark out, we need light to see.

We might use a flashlight or a lantern to see at night. But some animals make their own light. That light, explains Julia, is called bioluminescence, and creatures make that light using special chemical reactions in their bodies. Throughout the book, she shows fungi, fish, and dinoflagellates that create light. Each spread includes an info-packed sidebar, so there is no need (or room) for back matter.

What I like about this book: The black pages with white print set the perfect stage for a book about dark, though I do wish the sidebar text was bigger. Of course I love that bioluminescent fungi are included! As are fireflies and glow worms (which she points out are neither flies nor worms). And I love the focus on the diversity of creatures that make their own light.

Beyond the Books:

Go on a night walk and look for luminous things. If you’re walking near the ocean, you might see plankton glowing on the water. If you’re walking in a woody area, you might find glow-in-the-dark mushrooms (here are a few), and if you’re in the eastern part of the US you might see fireflies blinking above the tall grass. I once found glow worms in my garden!

Make some glowing water with this simple experiment from PBS

Donna B. McKinney is a member of STEAM Team 2023. You can find out more about her at her website

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by the publishers.


  1. This sounds both delightful and fascinating! I've seen lovely books coming from YeeHoo press! Thanks Sue!

  2. Interesting covers for both of these books. it's such a challenge for illustrators to create images when the subject matter is based in darkness. I need to read book of these. thanks for the recs!

    1. I agree - a real challenge to show the darkness while making it easy for readers to see details as well as read the text.