Deep-Sea Reading: Our Favorite Picture Books about the Ocean

We love reading ocean-themed picture books. There are so many fascinating animals and ecosystem to learn about—after all this time and dozens of books, I still feel that we're just skimming the surface. We have some favorite picture books, though.

So, here are over 20 fabulous picture books for you to check out this year! The list is arranged roughly in age order, with books for older readers at the end. 

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Easy-to-read picture books:

  • I’ll Follow the Moon, by Stephanie Lisa Tara, illustrated by Lee Edward Fodi—this is a lovely picture book about a baby turtle hatching and finding his way back to the sea.
  • Octopuses: One to Ten, by Ellen Jackson—a cool counting story with tons of extra information about octopuses.
  • In One Tidepool, by Anthony Fredericks –a fun rhyming story about exploring along the coast, as a child explores the tidepools and all the fascinating animals living in them.
  • Surprising Sharks: Read and Wonder, by Nicola Davies, illustrated by James Croft—a fun introduction to dozens of different shark species, full of science facts and captivating illustrations.
  • Coral Reefs, by Jason Chin—a fantastic underwater adventure that begins when a girl opens a library book and dives into the world of coral reefs. We've reread this book multiple times.
  • The Brilliant Deep, by Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe—an amazing story of one man’s efforts to protect and rebuild coral reefs.
  • Gentle Giant Octopus, by Karen Wallace—the story of a mother octopus finding a den and caring for her eggs until they hatch. (Note: female octopuses usually die soon after their eggs hatch, which hinted at in this book.)
  • Humphrey the Lost Whale, by Wendy Tokuda and Richard Hall, illustrated by Hanako Wakiyama—a classic about a whale lost in San Francisco Bay. This is one I read growing up!
  • Dolphin Baby, by Nicola Davies—a lovely story describing the first couple years of a baby dolphin’s life. It's a beautiful, lively story that explores the sounds dolphins make as they talk, the slow process of learning to fish, and so much more.
  • A is for Algae, by Jillian Freese—a neat variation on the classic alphabet book, using the scientific names for 26 different species of algae. I love how delicate and detailed the artwork is.
  • A to Z in the Deep, by Paulina Berry—another awesome alphabet book, featuring a wide range of incredible creatures. Deep sea creatures are always incredible, and the book is a fun introduction to them.
  • Seashells: More than a Home, by Melissa Stewart—this is a really fun contrast-and-compare picture book about seashells. It's from one of my favorite nonfiction authors, and the illustrations are gorgeous.
  • High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs, by Lisa Kahn Schnell—a fascinating introduction to these ancient creatures and their lifecycle. This picture book is one of my long-time favorites, with layered text that makes it a great resource for both preschoolers and independent readers.
  • Whale Trails, Now and Before, by Lesa Cline-Ransom, illustrated by G. Brian Karas—a neat comparison story showing the history of whaling alongside a modern-day whale watching adventure.
  • Giant Squid, by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann—an intriguing look at these mysterious deep-sea dwellers. This is a beautiful book with magnificent illustrations, in addition to being packed with information about these enormous animals.

  • Sea Turtles: Wildlife Books for Childrenby Tristan Walters—a great introduction to sea turtles, including an explanation of what a sea turtle is, what their habits are, and what sorts of dangers they face. Most of the other books on this list are illustrated, but this one uses real photos.

picture books about ocean exploration

  • Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas, by Molly Bang—a fascinating explanation of the way that plankton grows, and it's role feeding all kinds of marine animals. This is one I come back to regularly to look at solar energy and food chains.

  • Otis and Will Discover the Deep, by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Katherine Roy—a fascinating biography / adventure story about two of the first submarine explorers.

  • Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean Floor-Ecosystem, by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Rob Dunlavy – What happens when a whale dies? This book explores one part of the food web in the ocean, as a whale’s body sinks to the ocean floor and turns into food for dozens of different species.

  • Over and Under the Waves, by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal – another fun story from the entertaining Over and Under series with sea stars, otters, and so many other amazing ocean creatures. It’s a lovely story about exploring ecosystem together.  

Books for older readers:

  • The Big Book of the Blue, by Yuval Zommer—an incredible collection of ocean animals with fun facts about each of them. This is a great book for kids who love to browse information in small chunks.

picture books about marine animals
  • Secrets of the Sea, by Kate Baker—a beautiful collection of ocean animals, from fish to starfish and plankton. This book is set up somewhat like an encyclopedia, with oversize page and fabulous illustrations.

  • Here Is the Coral Reef, by Madeleine Dunphy, illustrated by Tom Leonard—a marine variation on the House that Jack Built style of cumulative poem, showing how the connections between all the different animals living in a coral reef.

  • Project Seahorse, by Pamela Turner—definitely a book for older readers, with more in depth information about sea horses, the dangers they face and the ways a community is working to protect them.

a first book of the sea

And finally, this one isn’t a story, but a lively poetry collection: A First Book of the Sea, by Nicola Davies. This is the third book by Nicola Davies on my list, but we’ve read many of these authors’ books on other topics as well!

Do you have any favorite ocean books? Which ones do you recommend reading?

a collection of picture books about the ocean


If you love learning about ocean animals, be sure to check out my science-themed coloring & activity book, Shrimp, Shrimp, Cuttlefish! This book focuses on more than 30 marine invertebrates with coloring pages and activities. You can find a sample coloring page from the book here

Shrimp, Shrimp, Cuttlefish is available on Amazon, or you can find it here.