Water Sings Blue | Seashells

I used to pick up small shells on the beach in Southern California as a child. Then when I was eight or nine, I got my hands on a treasure trove! My neighbor's great-aunt had spent her last years beachcombing in Tahiti, and one of the things she left my neighbor when she passed away was a metal box full of shells. My neighbor wasn't at all interested in that sort of thing, so she gave the box to me. I kept that box for years, taking out shells for school projects and to decorate my house and just to look at. I recently passed the box on to my nephew, but of course, I kept a number of favorites. I have also found or bought other shells when I had the chance, including a couple I purchased in Sedona, Arizona, very far from the shore.

When I decided to share my shells with you and took a look around my house, I found them everywhere. That and other oceany things. I hope you enjoy my little gallery! Who knows, maybe you'll become a shell collector yourself. You might even write a poem or two about seashells and ocean animals, the way I did in Water Sings Blue.

Melissa's Mermaid—My editor, Melissa Manlove, sent me this mermaid to celebrate our book. I thought she'd like being surrounded by shells (the mermaid, not Melissa).

Giant Frog Seashell—My student, Aldo, brought this one back from Hawaii. It is named for its bumpy surface, which is thought to resemble a frog's skin. Like most of the shells I own, this is a univalve, a spiraling single-unit seashell.

Tray on Desk—Most writers I know keep fun and inspirational objects on their desks. One of mine is this small lacquer tray filled with shells and polished stones, along with a marble and an acorn.

Angled, Gibbous, and Lamberti Olives (with Pirate Ship)—When living, these carnivorous snails are among the fastest sand burrowers in the sea. Can you see how the family got its name?

Crab Mola—A mola is a cloth art form from the Kuna people in Panama. This one was brought back to me by a college friend, Stefania.

Graceful Fig (with Chickens)—This shell is named after the fruit, of course. It's very fragile and arguably graceful.

Shinbone or Spindle Tibia—This one was collected by divers, or the spindle would have snapped off. I got it when I went to Hawaii with my mother. I was afraid I'd break it coming home, but as you can see, it's just fine.

Flamingo Tongue and Granulated Cowrie (with Baby Seal)—The living Flamingo Tongue is a yellow-orange snail with darker yellow-orange spots rimmed in black. The snail's mantle completely hides the shell as it crawls around on coral reefs eating gorgonians, a soft coral also known as the sea whip or sea fan. Most cowries are smooth, but I like this bumpy one. Did you know cowries were once used as money in some cultures?

Crazy Fish Clock—I got this in Hawaii, too. The clock has stopped working, but I don't care what time it is. I just like looking at the crazy fish!

Egg Cowrie—It looks like an egg, as you can see. This shell is such a bright white you would think it had been pearlized by humans, but it hasn't.

Egg Cowrie, Underside—I'm surprised by how dark the color of the interior is compared to the outer shell—it's a deep purplish brown.

Bivalves (Fragments)—I collected the larger piece on the beach, but the others were in my treasure box of seashells. I don't know the names of these, but you can see that bivalves, two-part hinged shells, are pretty in their own way. My nephew made the origami cube.

Seashell Cabinet—I haven't labeled these for you, but maybe you can figure some of them out for yourself. Can you spot the four cowries?

Common American Sundial (with Chinese Dragon)—This shell looks like a sundial, as you might have guessed. It's found on both coasts of the United States and as far south as Brazil and Peru.

Pink Conch and Chiraga Spider Conch—Conchs have been used as musical instruments (like trumpets), as memorial items on graves in the Caribbean, and as anti-burglar devices in sharp shards on top of walls in Jamaica, among other things. In some countries, it's illegal to take home Queen Conchs. My Belizean student's mother cooked conch fritters for me one day!

Marbled Cone (with Dragon)—Cones are venomous predators, though this one is not dangerous to humans, unlike its cousin the Textile Cone (see below). Still, watch out if you're another mollusk!

Shell Fragment Showing Layers—This fragment makes it easier to see how shells are built in layers. Mollusks extract calcium from sea water using their gills and gut, adding other materials to form an outer exoskeleton we call a shell.

Delphinula (Dolphin) Shell and Sliced Ammonite Fossil—Delphinulas are found in the Indo-Pacific, especially the Philippines. The ammonite is a Devonian or Cretaceous-era fossil shell often collected or made into jewelry.

Mushroom Coral—Can you see how the thin "slices" of this coral look like the underside of a mushroom?

Tesselated Tun and Imperial Delphinula (AKA Black-tankard Angaria)—The tun is so round it's almost a ball, while the Angaria is so dark and spiky it reminds me of a guard dog's snarl.

Thorny Starfish—Look at the wonderful bumps on this starfish (sea star).

Striped Bonnet (and Frog Prince)—These stripes are so regular they look painted on, but the mollusk really did grow them that way. Can you imagine wearing a bonnet like that?

King's Crown—You see much larger specimens of this shell, but I love my little one. I've always thought it looked like a fort because it's very sturdy and crenellated.

Textile or Cloth of Gold Cone (with Humpty Dumpty)—The living snail is so venomous it has been known to kill humans, but isn't the shell beautiful?

Quiet Beach—It's simple, but this picture takes me to a far-off place where everything is calm, even the sea.

Sputnik Urchin and Polished Green Turban—Sputnik was the name of a Soviet (Russian) satellite, the first to be put into orbit. The year was 1957, and what the Russians sent up looked something like this urchin's exoskeleton. As for the Green Turban, it has been polished to show off its colors.

Ampulle Bulla (Bubble Shell)—This shell is very thin and as light as a bubble.

Polished Abalone and Pearlized Turban—You can buy shells that have had the outer surface removed to show the iridescence beneath, like these two.

Polished African Turban and Sea Star—African Turbans are often polished because they look so great that way. Did you know that the correct name is sea star instead of starfish because the animal isn't a fish? Sea stars are related to sea urchins, and their family name, echinoderm, means "spiny skin" or "hedgehog."

Marlinspike Auger, Spiral Cut—This shell has been decoratively cut by humans. The result both mimics and displays the spiral inside.

Shell Earring Tray—Half a bivalve was polished to show off the mother-of-pearl. It has small silver feet to help it hold my earrings, especially the pairs made from abalone mosaic and sea glass.

Seashell Boxes—The Maori people of New Zealand call abalone paua. Here you see pretty little silver boxes inlaid with pieces of paua and mother-of-pearl.

Mermaid Alone—I would like to think she's saying good-bye to you, but really, mermaids don't care much about the comings and goings of humans.

Two Little Fish—That's more like it! My little fish are waving their tails good-bye.

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