Michelle Cusolito is much more then an author of children’s stories; she is a piped piper, a master of ceremony, an educator, and storyteller with an ability to transport her readers.
On July 23, Cusolito did all of that and more as she read aloud from her recently published book Flying Deep, the story of what it’s like aboard Alvin, the Navy’s deep diving research submersible.
Packed into the Lilliputian children’s department of Rochester’s Plumb Library, some dozen or so children along with another dozen adults were held in rapt attention as Cusolito read her story about Alvin in nearly virtual splendor. The story’s colors, sounds, and excitement so cleverly depicted and scored took the audience on that journey, a journey few have been privileged to experience.
Cusolito, a Rochester resident, has deep roots in children’s education, having been a classroom teacher, an educator at Lesley College, and a consultant to New Bedford Public Schools. Her grasp of the scientific world is vast. But as she tells it, unconsciously she always wanted to write for children.
Flying Deepengages the reader with illustrations by Nicole Wong and text that doesn’t shy away from using technical terminology. As she knows from her years teaching, “Children like to know the scientific names of things – they like to teach their parents.”
The text in Flying Deep, while expressly crafted to appeal to a younger reader, doesn’t avoid the use of complex terminology such as “luminosity”, “pressure readings”, “sonar soundings”, or “organisms”. Technical and scientific words and phases required no further explanation, for the sentence structure and the accompanying artwork provided the definition. And while younger children perhaps need a bit more help in fully comprehending the meaning of some words, Cusolito said she framed the story to be read aloud to younger children, granting them the opportunity to discuss words that might need further explanation.
The rich and precise illustrations show Alvin entering the ocean and then slowly, painstakingly descending 14,000 feet below the surface. They are truly breathtaking images. From launch to research conducted at the ocean-floor, from collecting marine samples via exterior manipulators to eating a sandwich while inside Alvin, Cusolito holds nothing back. And so when she discussed why drinking liquids during the nine-hour journey is limited, it was explained in terms that children understood, absent what might have been an embarrassing moment. After all, children at an early age understand the functioning of the human body very well and with candor.
Cusolito’s research not only included interviewing the current pilot of Alvin, but also experiencing a descent firsthand. She said that the interior of the submersible is only seven feet in diameter, just big enough to hold three people. She explained that music was an important part of the overall process that gave the scientists emotional equilibrium.
Flying Deepnot only tells the story of how Alvin is deployed into the ocean and returned to its transport ship, it tells the story of the magnificence of our planet’s interior space. Throughout her reading, Cusolito displayed and passed around models of sea worms and giant clams that furthered the children’s appreciation of the richness of marine life. She also described and displayed the very materials Alvin is constructed of and the methodology employed in its construction. The audience was fascinated by it all.
“We know more about the surface of the moon than the surface of the ocean,” Cusolito said. But after her presentation, no doubt she has inspired at least one or two youngsters to pursue a future in oceanography.
To learn more about Cusolito and Flying Deep, visit michellecusolito.com.
By Marilou Newell