I was commissioned to illustrate a fascinating and thrilling children’s book about a community of organisms which colonize an abandoned oil rig, written by a friend and very talented author named Sue Partenheimer. I illustrated one black and white portrait of each character as well as one larger, colored illustration of a scene from each chapter. In this post, I have summarized the stories which surround the illustrations I have done, but I don’t do Sue’s incredible story justice. You absolutely must read it yourselves!
Here are the illustrations of the main scenes in the book, along with a quick description of the chapter. The protagonists' portraits for each chapter are displayed on the right.
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The CASTOR OIL RIG TALES:
Illustrating a Marine Biology Children's Book
Chapter 1: Mira & Midge meet Octavius
When Mira and Midge, two tiny corals, settled on the smooth metal of Castor Oil Rig, they were warmly greeted by a beautifully regal golden octopus named Octavius, who had already been there for some time.
Chapter 2: The Crevette Family
Next to settle on Castor Oil Rig was the industrious family of Maurice Crevette. On their way to the rig, however, they encountered many obstacles, including this large manta ray. When the shrimp stuck together and formed a big group, the manta ray gave up its pursuit, in search of an easier dinner.
Chapter 3: Pierre Gustave Toutant
When the little turtle named Pierre Gustave Toutant left the safety of his nest, he had to journey all by himself into the open ocean. On his way, he became stuck in an oil slick. Lonely and covered in thick, black liquid, he felt very desperate. Luckily, Maurice Crevette saw the poor little turtle on his way back from work. He still had his cleaning brushes in his satchel and cleaned the turtle. He invited him back for a bowl of gumbo, and lived with the family of shrimp from that day on. The children loved him and the mother gave him the affectionate nickname Toot.
Chapter 4: Octavius
Junius and Emil, two mischievous little shrimp, were playing their favorite game- imitating sharks. They cried out in excitement when their games caused other shrimp and fish to swim away in fear. They were so enthralled by their game that they didn’t notice the terrifying and strange fish that loomed above them. Luckily, Octavius’ long, golden arms flowed out to save them just in time. Octavius pulled on the long tube-like gills of the fish and the fish panicked and swam away. Octavius had spent some time with humans while he lived on the oil rig and knew that without access to this special tube, humans became quite frantic.
Chapter 5: The Birthday Surprise
It had been some time since the family of shrimp had taken the little orphaned turtle in. Toot was getting older and the children at school began to pick on him, because he scuttled around on the ground like a shrimp, and unlike the slow, graceful movements of turtles they had heard about. His parents were concerned for him and decided that he needed a mentor, to teach him the ways of turtles. They asked around for the woman for the job. The brown pelicans Samson and Alcatraz had traveled far and wide and suggested a turtle that would be perfect for the job. On Toot’s birthday, he was finally introduced to this mentor. The mentor, a woman named Evangeline, came up behind Toot and introduced herself. Toot didn’t move, he stood there shell-shocked. This woman, this voice, was not new to him. He had heard it only once before, on the day that he was born, when she wished Toot well on his solo-journey to the open ocean. This was his mother! Toot turned around and asked, “Mama?” Evangeline couldn’t believe her eyes. She reached out her arms and began to cry.
Chapter 6: How Toot Got His Wings
Toot had heard of the large, magnificent pelicans which flew quickly, skimming the water’s surface. He dreamed to see their long, graceful wings, that took them farther than he could even see. One day, his mother promised him that he could meet the pelicans. Toot couldn’t wait. However, on the day he was supposed to meet them, his friends were in great need of help. Toot tried to hurry as much as possible, but after helping Amos and delivering Midge’s medicine, he arrived just after Samson and Alcatraz had to leave. After recounting his day, however, his mother understood, and she was glad to bestow on him the gift that the pelicans had given her. She carefully placed an immense pair of graceful yet powerful wings onto the little carapace of the turtle. He admired his new wings with a huge smile on his face and tried them out, clumsily at first, but eventually he started gliding gracefully through the pilings of the oil rig.
Chapter 7: Fideaux
Toot realizes Fideaux, the little seahorse that he and his friends found stuck in a tangle of plastic, is following his rescue party, shyly implying that he would like nothing more than to come live with Toot.
Chapter 8: Caliscia and the Baron
Baron the barracuda shows he can be trusted after he helps the Cajun shrimp family and gives rides to their six children all afternoon long.
Chapter 9: Christmas at Castor Oil Rig
Everyone gathers around a piece of driftwood that Amos, the snail and town mayor, decorated to look like a Christmas tree. Amos had seen this event occur on land and observed that this was the only occasion on which humans came together, put their differences aside, and seemed happy for an extended period of time.
Chapter 10: Amos
Here is Amos, the town mayor, hiding from three menacing Louisiana blue crabs. Amos will decide to disguise himself as a brightly colored, poisonous cone snail. But this, unfortunately, quickly grabs the attention of a nearby diver who tries to snatch him up. Amos used to always dress up as this cone snail when he was little, to get the other kids to respect him. After this experience, though, he learned the value of staying true to yourself.
Chapter 11: Lost
Fideaux the seahorse lost his owner (Toot the turtle) and went to the local playground, where he was sure his owner would be waiting for him. He waited there all night, alone, and fell into a fitful sleep. His owner was very worried when he couldn’t find his pet and spent the night looking for him. Toot found him as the sun was rising and never again took advantage of his loyal and loving Fideaux.
Chapter 12 Part 1: The Soccer Game
Tiye, this young coelacanth, came with her family to the oil rig in Louisiana all the way from South Africa, where growing curiosity and tourism had driven them from their home. Although the parents at the oil rig were very welcoming, Tiye, the young girl in the family, was ridiculed for her strange, lobe-like fins and awkward, aging appearance. However, she was able to demonstrate the value of her strange lobed fins in her role as goalkeeper in the annual West v. East oil-rig-wide soccer game.
Chapter 12 Part 2: Sanctuary
Here, our little turtle protagonist, Toot, finally asks the cute girl coelacanth to dance. Everyone is celebrating the recent announcement that the oil rig has just been declared a protected sanctuary. Octavius, the wise octopus explains what this means to the residents of Castor Oil Rig: “Our homes will never be taken from us; we will never be hunted here… We can thank ourselves for this honor because each and every one of us has helped turn an abandoned oil rig into a paradise worth protecting.”
Introducing our cast of characters:
the precocious, bubbly young coral polyp.
MEET the Crevette family
an industrious bunch of cleaner shrimp who ironically enjoy gumbo.
MEET Pierre Gustave Toutant
the tiny runt of his turtle litter, a kind-hearted green sea turtle
the wise octopus with a heart and arms of gold, who is no stranger to the strange ways of humans from his time in captivity on the oil rig
the wise sea turtle who has traveled the world and who also.. turns out to be Toot's long lost mother!
an old, well-traveled brown pelican whose wings and travel stories have always awed little Toot.
a very small seahorse who is rescued by Toot and becomes his faithful pet and companion
MEET The Baron
a fearsome barracuda who is bravely rescued by little Caliscia Crevette who risks her life removing a hook from his lip.
a tiny snail and the town mayor, who resourcefully recycles trash he finds in the dead zone
MEET THE COEALACANTHs
Taharqa, Swahila, & Tiye
a family of coelacanths escaped from South Africa where they had been discovered after a long period of living under the radar.