Book Review: Circus at the End of the Sea by Lori R. Snyder

Circus at the End of the Sea by Lori R. Snyder
Circus at the End of the Sea by Lori R. Snyder

“The Circus at the End of the Sea” by Lori R. Snyder is a heartwarming, delightful and joy-of-a-book to read. It’s a middle grade fantasy book (ages 8-12 years old) about magic on Venice Beach, California.

Although I read MG books extensively because I write in that genre, I ordinarily wouldn’t pick up a fantasy book about magic. But the main character, Maddy, gains a cephalopod sidekick in the blue octopus with yellow spots named Ophelia. I instantly fell in love with this charming, protective and lovable sidekick who sits on Maddy’s shoulder.

Ophelia is fashioned after the real-life mimic octopus, who “mimics” real animals to escape predators. It can become sea snake, lionfish, or flatfish to name a few. (Search “mimic octopus on YouTube for some fascinating videos!) Ophelia is an octopus living in a magical world, so she can squirt magical ink and turn into words!

The protagonist, Maddy, has seen magic in the ordinary world her entire life. As an orphan shuttled around different group homes, she has learned to keep this ability secret. Until one day she is drawn to the end of a pier in Venice Beach during the beginning of a storm, and she discovers Il Circo delle Strade, the Circus at the End of the Sea.

There she discovers a magical circus which boasts a number of unique characters including a muse and guide named Vanessa that gives her magical leg warmers. She embraces her magical abilities and begins to find out the mystery of the silver bracelet she can’t remove and was given to her by the parents who abandoned her as a newborn. She even learns why she has a heart condition she needs medication for.

Besides Ophelia, her best cephalopod friend, she meets her best human friend Skeeter, who is also a skateboarder. He wants to become a part of the circus but is too young. He too is an orphan. Skeeter and Maddy bond over that and being able to see the magic all around them.

I wasn’t expecting spiritual philosophy in a fantasy children’s book, but there’s a good balance of seeing magic in the ordinary, to finding out your true nature and discovering real friendships.

There is never a dull moment in Circus at the End of the Sea, whether it’s quiet contemplative moments, or a race on a roller coaster through the clouds. There is also the Bridge of Sighs that Maddy must cross and face her fears in order to reach the Heart at the End of the World. Most of all, this book is about about possibilities, and that our destinies are what we make of them.


I won’t give anything else away, but if you are intrigued, check out your local library or independent bookseller.
This is the Amazon link Circus at the End of the Sea. It comes out October 19, 2021.

The end notes are about the real Venice Beach, California, which is a character all onto itself in this book. I haven’t been there before but feel I have thanks to this book!

I know the author of this book, Lori R. Snyder, who is also a marine biologist and writer. She is the founder of the Writer’s Happiness Movement, which does free online writer’s retreats and has free yoga over zoom among many other wonderful things. I do her weekly 5 minute Writer’s Happiness Exercises as often as I can.

Please visit Lori’s website at Writer’s Happiness Movement or on Instagram at @writershappiness or Twitter at @writersHM for more information about the Writer’s Happiness Movement!

Octopuses Throw & Target Things At One Another

I’m Sid, a common Sydney octopus. I live off Australia in an area nicknamed “Octopolis” by humans.

A whole bunch of us octopuses live in this sandy area. There’s this one octopus, let’s call him “George,” who tries to mate with me.

One day he was particularly persistent. My eggs weren’t ready for fertilizing that day, so I resisted his advances. But he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

So I threw silt at him using a stream of water from my siphon. My siphon is a wondrous contraption—it helps me move when I shoot a jet of water out of it, helps me excavate my den, get rid of waste (my own and food debris) and also get rid of unwanted males!

I shot water out of my siphon and aimed it towards the silt beneath me and voila! A sand storm was directed towards George.

But he wasn’t getting the picture. I sent more silt flying towards him once the current took away my first try.

I’ve got to hand it to him, he ducked at least four times and was successful at dodging on two. I hurled silt ten times and hit him on 5 occasions. After the tenth time, he finally got that I wasn’t interested.

George threw a shell out into the ocean in frustration. We octopuses don’t retaliate (shh! at least the humans haven’t seen us do that!).

But here’s the exciting news about octopuses throwing things and targeting one another. Only a “handful” of other species, including chimpanzees, actually target individuals of the same species.

Not bad company for a mere invertebrate, huh? We only make up 97% of all animals…

For more information see the New Scientist’s “Female Octopuses throw things at males that are harassing them”

Also see “10 Interesting Octopus Facts”

Meet Tusk, the Narwhal Whale Accepted by Belugas

narwhal whale
Narwhal gets accepted by beluga pod! By A. Thorburn – http://theprintportfoliogallery.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=61_65, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28634335

Narwhal whales–Unicorns of the Sea

I am Tusk, and I’m a young male narwhal whale. I am unique among all the whales because I have a very long horn. It resembles a unicorn horn. But I’m real narwhal whale, and they’re not!

My tusk!

It’s one really long tooth, up to about half my body lengths—we can grow up to 17 feet long and our tusk can be over 10 feet long! I only have two teeth, but that one tooth is truly magnificent! It is sensitive with nerve endings—up to 10 million of them. I can use it to hit and stun fish, and then eat the fish before they can swim away.

Narwhal whale tusks have many uses, and humans suppose we use them for attracting mates, as a weapon, to open holes in the ice or to sense temperature and pressure. But shh! I’m not one to give away the narwhal whale’s secrets—I’ll let you clever humans figure out what we really use our tusks for!

I loved my life in the icy Arctic waters with my pod of 20 narwhal whales. Life was good as we ate plenty of cod and halibut and I loved seeing all the wildlife around like belugas, walruses and seals.

I’m lost!

But one day I wandered too far away from my pod. So far away they couldn’t hear my sounds, and I could no longer hear theirs. They were a noisy bunch, so I must have wandered very far away.

I did the only thing I knew to do, which was to swim. Crying out now and then, I only got silence back. I swam for months before I came to the St. Lawrence River. I could tell by the salinity difference that I wasn’t at home anymore. Estuaries are less salty than the ocean because of freshwater diluting the saltwater.

I was hungry, lonely, and sad. I missed my pod and my old Arctic home. Little did I know, but around a bend was a whole pod of male beluga whales.

My saviors, the Belugas!

Belugas are strange, as they don’t have tusks and are all white. I’m mottled gray in comparison. Belugas are known as the canaries of the sea because they chatter so much more than narwhals!

It was fortunate we all met, or else I wouldn’t have known where or how to catch food in this new area. I swam with them for a few days, just to see if they would accept me as their own. When they let me hunt with them, I knew I was at least temporarily accepted.

I had to learn their clicks and whistles, as they didn’t understand mine. We’ve gotten to know each other well this past year, and I feel like I’m one of the gang. I think some belugas are even jealous of my tusk!

This is a fictional story based on real-life events as seen in the National Geographic documentary, “Secrets of the Whales” streaming on Disney+

Also see 10 Cool Facts About Narwhal Whales

Facts from:

World Wildlife Fund Unicorn of the Sea—Narwhal Facts

Animal Fact Guide—Narwhals

Wikipedia entry on Narwhals

My Octopus Teacher Review by Ollie the Octopus

my octopus teacher review
My Octopus Teacher review by Ollie the Octopus

My Octopus Teacher Review

Hello my name is Ollie the Octopus. Unlike my counterpart featured in the Netflix documentary “My Octopus Teacher,” I have a name. I’m male though, and she was female—she laid eggs at the end of her life. While I wouldn’t have minded mating with her, we live halfway around the world from each other—her off of the South Africa coast, and me off of the California coast off of the USA.

We’re not villains!

So what does an octopus think of a documentary? Well, I’ve never watched TV, so I can only speak through my human translator (or is she an octopus translator?). I’m just glad we octopuses are not just thought of as villains (see Ursula in the Little Mermaid), food (octopus bowls in Japanese restaurants) or as slimy, disgusting creatures.

Octopuses are clever and intelligent!

We are now seen as the clever, intelligent and incredible creatures that we are, woo hoo! From what I’m told, some humans were horrified or disappointed that Craig Foster didn’t try and save his octopus teacher from a shark attack. He didn’t want to mess with nature.

Messing with nature?

But he did. He permanently scared her from one den at the beginning of their “friendship,” and continually put her life in possible danger when interacting with her. And especially when taking her to the surface when he took a much-needed breath of fresh air, he was exposing her to possible predators.

Changing natural behaviors?

But that she decided to interact with Craig at all was her decision. She could have stayed hidden and there would have been no documentary. Having her life permanently captured digitally was well worth any risk to her life. Did it change any of her natural behaviors? It did, but the time Craig spent with her was small in comparison to the time she spent being “wild.”

Octopuses love enrichment!

You wouldn’t have empathy for me otherwise, nor would you like to hear about how octopuses in captivity solve puzzles and open jars and boxes for food. Or how we “play” with objects in our tank (placing an object in the stream of water in our tank over and over).

We’re, um, cannibals

But you probably didn’t know that we can be cannibals, which I think makes octopus farming a tricky and controversial venture. Not to mention how it complicates the mating game!

We’re camouflaging machines!

We camouflage out of instinct—we’re color blind—but use our wits not to get eaten. We can change color, texture and shape. After all, we’re just a boneless protein snack to any mouth larger than us!

Unexplored ocean

We octopuses are often compared to alien beings. Why humans continue to search for life in space when 95% of the ocean is unexplored by humans or ROV’s (remotely operated vehicles) is beyond me. Octopuses have been eaten forever, yet true empathy for us took until this documentary. What other wonders do the oceans hold for humans?

You can help!

So what can you do for the ocean? Well, less than one digit % of all donations to nonprofits go to ocean conservation charities. Check Charity Navigator for a reputable nonprofit to donate to. A good one is Craig Foster’s nonprofit Sea Change Project and the Sea Save Foundation (My human volunteered there!)

Thanks for reading My Octopus Teacher review. Do you have any questions for me? I’ll answer them in any future blog posts.

Congratulations to My Octopus Teacher for winning many international awards, including the BAFTA for best documentary. Good luck at the Academy Awards!

Also see: Ollie the Octopus and the Definition of Ocean Acidification

How Does Whale Poop Fight Climate Change?

blue whale poop, whale poop
Blue whale poop by Ian Wiese

Did you know that whales are climate change fighting machines? If saving them for their majesty and beauty wasn’t enough, whales actually help fight climate change. This is due to whale poop, of all things.

Blue Whale Poop

Take the largest animals to roam the Earth, present day or past, the blue whales. Blue whales reach lengths of 100 feet and 190 tons. When they poop, they release the by-products of the krill they eat.
Essentially whale poop is fertilizer for the plants of the ocean, the phytoplankton. The phytoplankton, wherever the blue whale migrates to, are stimulated to grow. They, like terrestrial plants, use carbon dioxide and sunlight to grow. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. The less of it in the air, the better it is for planet Earth and its warming climate.

Phytoplankton thanks

The phytoplankton take sunlight and carbon dioxide and turn it into food and oxygen. Take a breath, and sigh it out. Take another breath and exhale. One of those breaths is thanks to phytoplankton growing in the ocean! Thanks phytoplankton!

Whale migration

Whales are constantly swimming and migrating to new places in search of food. Along the way they poop out nutrients and voila, the phytoplankton begin to grow and nourish the bottom of the food chain there. The phytoplankton grow where they wouldn’t have otherwise without whale poop and the critters in those spots benefit.

Nutrients brought up from depths

Whales also dive in search of food-think of a sperm whale fighting a giant squid for a meal-and bring up nutrients from the ocean depths and deposit them at the surface where phytoplankton live and grow.

Whale falls

Although it’s sad to think about, whales die and sink to the sea floor. One whale body can bring 190,000 tons of carbon (equivalent to the emissions of 80,000 cars in a year) from the surface to the sea floor. This is a part of carbon sequestration, which just means capturing carbon somehow and taking it out of the air. In this case it means taking carbon from the surface (the whale) and depositing it on the sea floor. There many animals benefit from eating and scavenging the whale, and the carbon get deposited and stays there.

Whale poop and Fisheries

Last, but not least, whales and their poop can help enhance fisheries. There will be higher rates of food productivity in places where whales feed and give birth. The whale poop stimulates the phytoplankton at the bottom of the food chain, and fish at the higher levels of the food chain benefit and grow and reproduce.

So while being magnificent in their own right, whales and their poop are climate change fighters!

Did you know sea otters also help fight climate change?

Whale poop and climate change: here’s what you need to know by National Marine Sanctuary Foundation

Blue Whale Caught on Camera Having a Poo