After years of preparation, Dr Morley is embarking on a quest to study her favourite jellyfish in its natural habitat. As her well-equipped research vessel makes its way through the icy waters of the Arctic, the dedicated scientist and her crew are able to measure, test and record all sorts of interesting encounters, but the giant jellyfish remains elusive. Or does it?
Imbued with an icy coldness that evokes the grandeur and excitement of its setting, The Search for the Giant Arctic Jellyfish brings the landscapes of the frozen north to life in a playful, warm-hearted exploration of scientific perseverance and visionary leadership. Chloe Savage’s theatrical sense of composition and page turn creates mounting tension of the most gleeful kind, and even the youngest audiences will quickly realise that we’re being shown much more than we’re being told. Poor Dr Morley’s fate is entirely in the hands (tentacles?) of the jellyfish, which conceals itself with ease and chooses the most dramatic moment to reveal itself.
Colour and perspective are also key components in the drama. The deep, rusty red of Dr Morley’s vessel pops in a satisfying way against the saturated blues, and the horizontal page division between air-breathers and water-dwellers transforms our understanding of what’s going on.
Savage is keen to show the reality of Dr Morley’s research. A cutaway through her vessel invites readers to explore life on board, and a few gently scientific terms (measurements, samples, algae…) are amplified by images of the scientists peering down microscopes, drilling through ice sheets, netting samples and making copious notes. Alongside the attention to detail and practical fact-finding most commonly associated with this kind of work, Savage also captures the visionary and creative aspects, making her depiction unusually well-rounded and nuanced. This is an expedition that feels as though it really could take on the beauty and unpredictability of the Arctic, and in Dr Morley it has a determined and effective female leader who will inspire young readers to ‘think bigger’ and pursue their dreams.
The expedition’s voiceover is disarmingly straightforward, creating a sense of routine practicality punctuated by hints at the poetry and passion behind Dr Morley’s enterprise. There are moments when the text doesn’t flow as easily as it could, but generally it’s a pleasure to read aloud, and does an excellent job of framing everything that young children (and their adults) will love about this well-planned and immensely well-executed debut.