A Guide for Educators & Readers

Best Users: Librarians, Educators, Book Clubs

Best Audience: Children Grades 05-10


The novel A Crack in the Sea by H.M. Bouwman (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) opens a door from our world and our history into a second world.  Through mysterious cracks in the sea, a group of Africans escape death at the hands of slavers in 1781, and a group of Vietnamese refugees escape death by exposure on the open sea in 1978.

Each of the groups discover a world with a vast ocean and sparse islands where refugees from our world have begun again.  Using unique gifts that manifest or change in the crossing, both the ancestors and the new arrivals build new families and a community of cooperation.

The novel presents opportunities to continue or introduce a study of slavery and forced migration, a study of economic and war refugees, and the use of storytelling to expose truths and provide hope in the darkest times.  As we all know, none of these topics, especially slavery, can be taken on without preparation.

In the guide below, we offer a series of Teaching Resources to Build Your Background Knowledge (BBK),  some ideas for Pre-reading Activities for Students, and in-depth Discussion Questions.


Crack in the Sea Guide (PDF)


A Crack in the Sea
By H. M. Bouwman
With illustrations by Yuko Shimizu
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Books for Young Readers
Ages 10+

No one comes to the Second World on purpose. The doorway between worlds opens only when least expected. The Raft King is desperate to change that by finding the doorway that will finally take him and the people of Raftworld back home. To do it, he needs Pip, a young boy with an incredible gift–he can speak to fish; and the Raft King is not above kidnapping to get what he wants. Pip’s sister Kinchen, though, is determined to rescue her brother and foil the Raft King’s plans.

This is but the first of three extraordinary stories that collide on the high seas of the Second World. The second story takes us back to the beginning: Venus and Swimmer are twins captured aboard a slave ship bound for Jamaica in 1781. They save themselves and others from a life of enslavement with a risky, magical plan–one that leads them from the shark-infested waters of the first world to the second. Pip and Kinchen will hear all about them before their own story is said and done. So will Thanh and his sister Sang, who we meet in 1978 on a small boat as they try to escape post-war Vietnam. But after a storm and a pirate attack, they’re not sure they’ll ever see shore again. What brings these three sets of siblings together on an adventure of a lifetime is a little magic, helpful sea monsters and that very special portal, A Crack in the Sea.

“Through the captivating interwoven tales of these three sibling pairs—and with assistance from Shimizu’s powerful ink illustrations—Bouwman crafts a moving narrative about family, magic, morality, the power of storytelling, and the cyclical nature of history.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review
“This novel touches on sensitive and tragic moments in history and gives them fantastical remediation for a provocative, immersive read.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Fans of Grace Lin will love this wholly original book that reads like a fairy tale. A moving and thought-provoking choice for library collections.”
School Library Journal
“Bouwman weaves together these stories of freedom and escape with a deep sense of respect and emotion, bringing the reader directly into each family’s search for a safety that transcends both time and space.”
“Bouwman ably weaves these threads together into a curious, haunting whole that references oppression, family, magic, and a human desperation for safety that transcends time and place. . . . Detailed black and white illustrations invite contemplation and work well to highlight key moments in the novel, adding artistic flair to the already lyrical story.”—BCCB
“Fantasy fans will be drawn into this story and find it hard to put down.”
School Library Connection

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