Tag Archives: Coral

Student Art Inspired by “Sea Horse, run!”

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Mrs. Daniel’s 4th grade class at Nolan Elementary in Signal Mountain, Tennessee gave me a wonderful set of pictures based on my books. Here is a sample of their work from “Sea Horse, run!”.

Keegan drew the above picture of Sea Horse. His question on the back of the picture reads: “How did sea horse hear coral, a plant, singing to him?”

Great question, Keegan! Coral is not a plant. Coral looks like a plant, but she is actually a group of tiny animals. A choir or chorus is an organized group of singers, and since Coral is an organized cluster of tiny animals, I thought she ought to sing like a choir.

Learn more about why Coral sings in the story by reading Coral as Greek Chorus or click on a question below to learn more about corals:

What is a coral polyp?
How do polyps eat?
How are corals named?
Why are corals important to sea horses?
Do coral polyps have eyes?

Preslee likes my jellyfish. I like Preslee’s jellies (above), too!

Nick also drew jellies (above). Nick asks, “Why did you pick jellyfish for the dedication page?”

Jellyfish are a symbol for acceptance, so the appearance of jellyfish before the story even begins foreshadows or predicts that acceptance will be an important theme in the story. The poor Sea Dragon is misunderstood! Sea Horse learns to ignore gossip and accept Sea Dragon for who he really is.

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Rewriting the End in “Sea Horse, run!”

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Someone asked me today, “How do you know when you are finished rewriting?” A great question! I’ve found that just when I think my story can’t possibly be any better, someone will give me a nudge in a different direction and, “Voilà!” A better book is born.

The key to knowing whether or not you are finished rewriting is to test your story with your audience. Of course a picture book should be tested on children, but usually every child will like your story. In addition to kids, seek out a dozen or more teachers, librarians, and parents. Ask your adult readers to give you feedback. Granted, sometimes it’s hard to get an honest response. Most readers want to say, “That’s great! I love your story,” or “Good job!”  That isn’t necessarily what you want to hear. You want readers to be as critical as possible. If there are major flaws with your story, you have to know BEFORE you publish it. That’s why you test it with so many people. Out of a dozen readers, one or two will be brutally honest, but their feedback could mean the difference between an “okay” book or a “great” book.

I speak from experience. My new picture book, “Sea Horse, run!”, went through eighteen rewrites over the course of a year. I thought the story was finished, but when I was looking for feedback on the art (only weeks before the book went to press), one librarian spoke up and said,

“I don’t like the end of your story.”

Ribbon

In that version (the 18th draft), Sea Horse, Coral and Sea Dragon laugh at the Shark, Eel and Octopus for not realizing the “Sea Dragon” was only a harmless, Leafy Dragon. This concerned parent/librarian pointed out how inappropriate my ending was for children. I listened and realized that I needed another revision. I was mortified. At least a dozen other people had told me they liked the book. Should I really rewrite it AGAIN based on the feedback of one person? The answer is, “Absolutely!” Why not write it one more time? After all, as a writer, you can always go back to the old version. It never hurts to write your story from a different angle or with an alternate ending. You may like the new version better. That’s exactly what happened for “Sea Horse, run!”.  With only a few weeks left before the book went to the printer, I took the story apart, piece by piece, desperately seeking the perfect finale.


The ending came to me as I studied the art. Since the book takes place on a coral reef, I drew a variety of fish for the background. One fish was the ribboned sea dragon. I asked myself, “Why is Leafy Dragon coming to the reef in the first place?” Answer: “To visit his cousin, Ribbon.” I not only revised the story, I revised ALL of the art by hiding Ribbon in every picture so that in the end, Sea Horse realizes that a sea dragon lived on the reef all along. The new ending increased the story to 849 words, a real drawback since I was committed to keeping it under 800, but the story improved so much, I decided not to worry about the length.

The revelation that there were three sea dragons instead of one made for a better ending, and it was far more appropriate for children. The new ending also allowed me to put three sets of “three” in the book, a nice touch since the number three is so important in children’s literature. (Read my previous blog post, “The Power of Three in Children’s Books.”) Although it was an enormous challenge to revise my “final” draft,” the extra effort was well worth it. When I tested the book on readers again, they were more enthusiastic than ever. I knew the 19th version would be the last, and a character that began as just another fish in the background took on a much larger role. In retrospect, I’m fairly certain that final revision helped transform “Sea Horse, run!” into an award-winning book.

Want to know more about ribboned sea dragons? Read my blog post entitled, “Ribbon,” or watch the video below. Remember: Don’t be afraid to REVISE!!!

A Character Study: Coral as Greek Chorus in “Sea Horse, run!”

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Students always ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” My answer is, “The library.” Every book, play, and poem I have ever read contributes to my creative process. In the case of “Sea Horse, run!”, ancient Greek plays inspired one of my favorite characters: Coral.

Greek Theater

The Greek Theatre at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Photo by me!

Why does Coral sing in “Sea Horse, run!”?

The Oedipus plays and Antigone are only a few examples of ancient Greek dramas studied by older students in junior high or high school. In Greek theatre the chorus was one of the most important components of the play. The chorus narrated and would collectively comment on the dramatic action. If the hero had hidden fears, the chorus expressed those fears to the audience usually by communicating in song.

Sea Horse & CoralIn “Sea Horse, run!”, Coral is my chorus. Coral sings, and her collective song serves the same function as the Greek chorus in ancient theatre.

Examples:

Coral sings, but only the hero (Sea Horse) and the audience (the reader) can hear her song.

Sea Horse does not express his fear, but Coral projects fear by singing, “Sea Horse, run far, far away!” and “Sea Horse, run! Sea Horse, run!”

Coral also comments on the action by stating the obvious. In the end, she sings, “Three little dragons,” underscoring that three different sea dragons are on the reef.

Coral sings, “I see, I see!” She “sees” the sea dragon before Sea Horse, a poignant image considering Coral polyps do not have eyes; but of course, the all-knowing prophet in Greek literature is generally blind making Coral more than a chorus. She’s also a “seer.”

How did I come up with idea for Coral as a chorus?

A coral is a colony or group of many polyps, so I imagined if a coral living on the reef could talk, it would have many voices speaking as one just like a chorus!  It’s also fun to note that in the English language the words ‘coral’ (c-o-r-a-l) and ‘choral’ (c-h-o-r-a-l describing the music sung by a chorus or choir) share the same pronunciation.

Soft Coral Polyps    Corals    Hard Coral Polyps

Picture books are not just for small children, preschool-2nd grade. Older readers and writers can learn much by studying the structure and content of a story in miniature. In “Sea Horse, run!”the complexity of Coral’s character adds another layer of enjoyment directed specifically at older readers.

Bubble Coral

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Photo by Tammy Carter Bronson, October 2010

The common name ‘Bubble Coral’ may bring to mind an image of a soft, pliable animal, but bubble coral is actually a reef-builder known as a true, hard coral. The polyps or tiny animals that make up this colony have twelve or more legs. Bubble corals are often found in deep water near the base of a reef which is why specimens in aquariums require a gentle water current and low light. The coral skeleton is protected during the day by the inflatable ‘bubbles.’ At night the bubbles retract allowing the tentacles to emerge and hunt for food. This coral can be aggressive. If threatened by another coral, the tentacles will sting and kill its rival. Bubble corals are native to the Indo-Pacific region including the waters around Australia, the Indian Ocean, and Red Sea. Captive specimens are fairly hardy and relatively easy to care for. Combine this with it’s intriguing appearance, and its no wonder bubble corals are popular in aquariums.

More Information:

How to Keep Bubble Coral

Bubble Coral

Art © 2011 by Tammy Carter Bronson

Click on a question or link below to learn more about corals:

What is a coral polyp?

How do polyps eat?

Do coral polyps have eyes?

Why are corals important to sea horses?

How are corals named?
This page includes a complete chart of every coral in “Sea Horse, run!”. The chart shows how corals are classified in relation to one another. An individual coral may have more than one common name.

Additional Names for Bubble Coral include Grape Coral and Pearl Coral.

Brain Coral

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Brain Coral is a hard, reef-building coral.

Brain CoralClick on a question or link below to learn more about corals:

What is a coral polyp?

How do polyps eat?

Why are corals important to sea horses?

Do coral polyps have eyes?

How are corals named?
(This page includes a complete chart of every coral in “SEA HORSE, RUN!”. The chart shows how corals are classified in relation to one another.)

Eyes

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Do coral polyps have eyes?

All polyps have tentacles, a mouth, throat, and stomach, but coral polyps do not have eyes. 

Soft Coral Polyps   Hard Coral Polyps

The eyes are the soul of my characters. I put a lot of time and thought into each pair of eyes; however, Coral is an important character in “SEA HORSE, RUN!”, and she does NOT have eyes. I knew that would make it more challenging for readers to connect with her character, but since my husband is legally blind, I decided her character would give me the opportunity to express that you don’t need eyes in order to ‘see’ and understand the world around you. One of the most profound moments in the story is when Coral sings, “I see, I see!” She knows the ‘seaweed’ is the sea dragon long before Sea Horse understands even though Sea Horse has eyes to see.

Sea Horse and Leafy

Pages 20-21 of "SEA HORSE, RUN!"

Click on a question or link below to learn more about corals:

What is a coral polyp?

How do polyps eat?

How are corals named?

Why are corals important to sea horses?

Do coral polyps have eyes?

Corals and Sea Horses

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Why are corals important to sea horses?

Many species of sea horses are entirely dependent on their coral environment for protection. Sea horses can change their color and texture to mimic the corals they are attached to which means the corals provide the perfect hiding place from predators. Since corals often protect sea horses, I thought it would be a nice reversal in “SEA HORSE, RUN!” to have my hero, Sea Horse, protecting his best friend, Coral.

Sea Horse & Coral

Sea Horse looks yellow like his best friend, Coral.

Also, many species of coral and even some coral reefs are endangered around the world, so it was easy to imagine Coral needed to be protected in the story. But protected from what? That was the hard part. I knew the danger needed to be concrete for young readers, so I chose a sea dragon because the word ‘dragon’ definitely excites the imagination!

Sea Horse and Sea Dragon

Sea Horse and Leafy. Leafy is a sea dragon!

Click on a question or link below to learn more about corals:

What is a coral polyp?

How do polyps eat?

How are corals named?

Why are corals important to sea horses?

Do coral polyps have eyes?

Coral Names

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How are corals named?

Most corals have many names. A coral’s proper name comes from the genus and species they belong to. The official name of Blue Coral is Heliopora coerulea. A coral’s proper name is hard to remember and pronounce, so coral colonies are given nicknames that describe the shape of the colony. Brain Coral is a nickname, but coral nicknames can also be confusing because some corals have more than one nickname. For example, Chalice Coral is also called ‘Lettuce Coral’ when it is covered in green algae.

Blue Corals     Brain Coral     Lettace Coral

The coral classification chart below shows some of the corals found near reefs in Australia. Hard corals are highlighted in red and soft corals are highlighted in green. Because hard polyps create coral reefs, most of the corals in “SEA HORSE, RUN!” are hard corals.

Coral Classification Chart

Click on a question or link below to learn more about corals:

What is a coral polyp?

How do polyps eat?

How are corals named?

Why are corals important to sea horses?

Do coral polyps have eyes?


How Polyps Eat

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How do polyps eat?

At night coral polyps come out of their skeletons to feed. A polyp uses tentacles to sting and capture tiny floating animals called zooplankton. The polyp’s mouth swallows the zooplankton. The zooplankton is digested in the polyp’s stomach. Some coral polyps feed by exchanging energy with tiny algae called zooxanthellae (pronounced zo-zan-THEL-ee). Zooxanthellae live inside the polyps’ tissues and create the brilliant colors seen in many corals.

Hard Coral PolypsSoft Coral Polyps

The algae in Lettuce Coral are green.

Lettace Coral

Click on a question or link below to learn more about corals:

What is a coral polyp?

How do polyps eat?

How are corals named?

Why are corals important to sea horses?

Do coral polyps have eyes?