Like a lot of kids growing up in the 1970’s, I looked forward to Sunday nights because that was when I would be taken to far-flung places from the Yucatan Peninsula to the Arctic Circle— without leaving my living room! Not only that, but I’d travel underwater to what appeared to be an alien world of bright colors, strange creatures, and mystery. But the best part was that my guide was undoubtedly the coolest man on the planet (at least to this goggle-eyed 8-year old), and more fearless than any astronaut could ever be.
I loved watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.
My admiration for the good captain continued into adulthood. By then, clad in his wetsuit and red cap with that French accent, Cousteau reached icon status. And to top it off, the man really cared about the planet, even when it jeopardized his career, as I later learned.
I guess I just assumed that kids these days were familiar with his work or at least his name, but I discovered I was wrong. On my school visits, I asked students if they knew who he was or had seen his shows, but very few, if any, ever had. His series from the late 60’s/early 70’s was one of the first of its kind, but in an age of networks like the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, it’s not as revolutionary as it used to be. And like the groundbreaking technology he developed, such as the aqualung and various underwater cameras, the world caught up, but that didn’t mean he shouldn’t be celebrated. Cousteau was a revolutionary with an insatiable curiosity, but with something else—a conscience.
I wanted to celebrate his life as well as introduce him to a new generation of kids in hopes that they’d think he was as cool as I thought he was (and still do). And the one way I could do that was to create a picture book telling his story, which would be a big leap for me because I’d never written and illustrated a picture book biography before. In fact, other than one or two titles, I only wrote fiction.
I dove into the research (pun intended) and read and watched everything I could find about him. To my delight, I ended up having even more respect for Cousteau and his mission to raise the world’s consciousness about how fragile our planet really is than I had before.
I’m happy to report that my book The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau has gotten into the hands of many students. When I visit a well-prepared school and hear the oohs and ahhs of recognition when Cousteau’s photo comes up in my presentation, I feel as if I were back in school, a goggled-eyed 8-year old sharing the class’s fascination with the coolest man on the planet.
Dan Yaccarino is known the world over for his children’s books, as well as his Parent’s Choice Award-winning animated TV series Oswald (Nick Jr) and Emmy-winning Willa’s Wild Life (NBC and Qubo). His bold, stylized illustrations add wit and energy to the work of many prestigious authors in addition to his own stories. Go to www.yaccarinostudio.com.