Monday, February 14, 2011

Astro: The Steller Sea Lion

It's Nonfiction Monday again.  Be sure to stop by Wrapped in Foil for the day's roundup of nonfiction gems.

Harvey, Jeanne Walker. 2010. Astro: The Steller Sea Lion. Ill. by Shennen Bersani. Mt. Pleasant, SC: Sylvan Dell.

Steller sea lions are a threatened species; so when a scientist spotted an abandoned pup swimming off the coast of California, the Marine Mammal Center was contacted to save the it. Following the rescue, workers at the Center prepared the sea lion, nicknamed Astro,  for his return to the wild - the usual course of action. However, after multiple attempts to return Astro to the ocean (including one in which Astro swam for three days to return to shore, where he came aground and participated in an elementary school's walk-a-thon!), researchers and scientists finally concluded that Astro was not a candidate for reintroduction into his native habitat.  After a stop at UC Santa Cruz, Astro found a permanent home in at the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut.  You can see him there today.

Astro: The Steller Sea Lion is an engaging teaching tool for readers and students seeking to learn about animal rescue, Steller sea lions, or threatened species.  Astro's unique adventures make his story as entertaining as it is informative,
Finally, he let go. With a huge splash, Astro swam deep into the ocean.  His friends cheered.  But . . .  10 days later, Astro swam under the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco bay.  He climbed onto a sandy beach in someone's backyard - not far from The Marine Mammal Center.
Astro had bonded with humans and was not interested in returning to the ocean.

The text is large and the vocabulary is fairly simple, making this a book that children can enjoy without help.  Plain font, black text appears in the open spaces of sea and sky in Shennen Bersani's stunning illustrations.  The double-spread ilustrations are near photographic quality, though the book jacket notes that she uses colored pencils primarily, "sometimes using a mixed-media technique of colored pencils, crayons, and paint."  The results are precise and strikingly realistic.

Back matter includes species facts, information and maps on Steller sea lions, life cycle information, and "Sea Lion or Seal?"

This is a story that does not have the happy ending that children may be expecting; Astro cannot be reintroduced to the wild, however, this is a good lesson on the limits of man's influence over nature. The best that we can do is the best that we can do.

Curiously, the book's cataloging summary lists it as fiction. Though minor details may have been changed, Astro and his adventures are most certainly real. A video about Astro and a link to a related newspaper article are below.

This is an attractive and informative book that will appeal to students, teachers, and marine life enthusiasts.
Preview Astro the Steller Sea Lion here.
A link to a 2007 newspaper article about Astro's surprise participation in a school walk-a-thon.
Teaching resources are available from the publisher.

QUEST on KQED Public Media.

Review copy received from author.


  1. The story of Astro is certainly a compelling one and so appealing to children. I was also confused that the book was listed as fiction.

  2. I have heard from the author and publisher. Libraries using computerized MARC records have the proper cataloging information. The actual book will be corrected in its next printing. Makes me feel better about the occasional typo! ;)


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