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Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of a Starfish

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By Janet Halfmannsea star
Illustrated by Joan Paley
Henry Holt: Christy Ottaviano Books
ISBN: 978-0805090734 (Hardcover)
Ages 5-9, nonfiction picture book

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Awards & Praise

2012 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book
2012 Gold Best Book Award: Oppenheim Toy Portfolio
Wisconsin Writers Tofte/Wright Children's Literature Award
Best of the Best List: Chicago Public Library
Great review from The Wall Street Journal
Junior Library Guild Selection
Washington Children's Choice Picture Book Award Nominee

The Story

With the ocean her home, an ochre sea star hunts for her morning meal. She folds over her rays and grips the rocky shore with stick y feet as she feasts on shellfish. When she takes too long, the tide flows back without her, and Sea Star becomes easy prey for a seagull. But she is built to survive and returns to the sea, although with one less ray.

Through inspiring words and stunning pictures, the fascinating world of a small but mighty sea creature is brought to light.

The Story Behind the Story

The inspiration for Star of the Sea came about in a rather unusual way. One day about ten years ago, I was browsing at my local library and came upon a series of books that were very similar to the stories I was writing about the lives of animals. There was a backyard series and an ocean series. I decided to write the best story possible about an ocean animal that wasn't yet in the series and submit it to this publisher.

Almost right away, I noticed that one of my favorite ocean animals—the sea star—was missing. But with 2000 kinds of starfish, which one should be the "star" of my story? I decided to focus on a common sea star so it would be more familiar to children. I settled on the ochre sea star, the common starfish of the Pacific coast—in part because it is such an important member of its seashore community.

I spent months researching, writing, revising. Finally, I felt like I had brought the life of the ochre sea star and its rocky shore home to life for kids. Off went the story. Drats! The publisher didn't buy it, but. . . . . a few months later hired me to write a different story, and now ten years later I've written ten books for this publisher.

But to get back to the Sea Star story. I sent it out to a few other publishers and then forgot about it for several years. Then one day, I pulled it out and read it with the eye and heart of a writer who I feel has grown a great deal since originally writing the story. More polishing, cutting, fine-tuning—until I felt every word sang. Out it went again—and this time Christy Ottaviano at Henry Holt bought it. What an exciting day—for me and Sea Star!

Links to Lesson Plans

Links to Crafts inspired by Star of the Sea


  • "Joan Paley's bright, blocky collages of the ochre sea star, brick-colored with a lacy pattern on its back, have a cheerful feel, and readers ages 5-9 will probably be inclined to side with the star as it travels the ocean floor repelling enemies and looking for tasty things to eat." —The Wall Street Journal
  • "Poetic verse and vibrant collages characterize this tribute to starfish." —Publishers Weekly
  • "Paley's beautiful artwork consists of collages of hand-painted papers of watercolor blends and textures." —Kirkus Reviews
  • "Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of Starfish by Janet Halfmann is just about as perfect as a nonficiton picure bok can get, especially for the young elementary grade set. It has the right balance of detail and nuance, making this an informational book that has a lot of narrative appeal. —Hope Is the Word
  • "The book's narration is full of descriptive phrases that paint a minds-eye picture of the daily life of a starfish in its natural environment. . . .The illustrations show the large view of a starfish as well as close-up images of its tube feet. The blend of words and art provides young readers with accurate scientific information and will inspire wonder in their minds." —National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Recommends
  • "Seriously, I cannot believe that, having spent my life near the two coasts, I've lived this long knowing so little about sea stars. But I cannot say that any more. STAR OF THE SEA is full of information about these creatures, including several jam-packed pages of back matter. Joan Paley's rich watercolor collages are absolutely stunning. A stellar read. —Richie's Picks

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