Wednesday, February 26, 2014

As I explained in my last two posts, further research about cleaner fish led me to make a correction to one scene in Miri Attwater and All That Glitters. Here's the corrected excerpt.

best books for girls : All That Glitters cover 188 x 250

Miri Attwater and All That Glitters

Excerpt from Chapter 9, Better than a Bathtub

Miri followed Fisk to the very edge of Kai Kaona, out past the kelp fields. Next to the cavern wall there was a sea turtle doing the oddest thing. It was standing on its head. Not only that, yellow tangs and another type of fish that was black with an orange ring around its eye, a gold-ring surgeonfish, were swarming all over it.

“Don’t those fish annoy the turtle?” asked Miri.

“Naw, they’re cleaner fish. See all that green stuff on the turtle’s shell? That’s algae growing on it. The fish are eating it off.”


“Yeah, you know, tiny single-celled plants. Actually, it’s more like seaweed, because seaweed is algae. It’s just multicellular algae, meaning it’s made up of multiple cells. Get it? Multiple cells, multicellular algae. Unlike the algae that’s growing on you. That’s colonial —”

“Wait!” Miri interrupted him. “You mean I’ve got algae growing on me?” Algae was that green scum that grew on ponds. “How disgusting!”

“It’s no big deal. Algae grows on everything around here. You have to clean it off every once in a while. This is the perfect way,” said Fisk.

Oh great. As if living at the bottom of the ocean where everything was damp and fishy wasn’t bad enough, now algae was growing on her. And she was supposed to let slimy fish nibble on her to get rid of it? Yuck! She pulled back.

“Oh, come on,” said Fisk. “They won’t hurt you.”

Well, if it was the only way to get rid of the algae she’d have to give it a try. She made herself swim up slowly to get a better look when – below, on the edge of her vision – she spotted a gray, triangular, fin. She felt a shock and jerked back, screaming loud enough to pop her talking gum bubble and twirled around to high tail it out of there.

Fisk grabbed her hand to stop her. “Ziggady! They’re just fish.”

Miri looked down nervously to make sure the shark wasn’t chasing her. It wasn’t, but it was still there. She could only point down silently.

“Oh, that?” said Fisk. “That’s just a nurse shark. Besides, it’s being groomed. It’s definitely not looking for a meal. Otherwise, the cleaner fish wouldn’t get near it.”

Her hand trembling in Fisk’s, she sneaked a peek at the shark again, as if scared that looking at it might make it attack her. A fish was actually swimming into the shark’s mouth! Then it swam out. And in again! She couldn’t believe it. But there it was, right below her, a little fish going in and out, in and out, of the shark’s mouth around all its sharp teeth, while other fish darted around the rest of the shark’s body. The shark looked practically asleep. Still…

Fisk squeezed her hand and pulled her toward the turtle. “Come on. Really, it’s fine, I promise. There’s no reason to be so jittery.”

Miri let him pull her, but paused every half-stroke to look down and make sure the shark wasn’t moving. The buzzing and shaky feeling slowly subsided. Up close, it looked like the cleaner fish were giving the turtle big smootches. Their little fish lips pooched out and stuck to the shell like tiny suction cups, then pulled away leaving a little clean patch behind.

“Go on, you gotta stand on your head. That’ll let the fish know you’re ready to be cleaned – and won’t eat them,” Fisk added with a grin.

Eat them! Miri couldn’t imagine anything more disgusting than eating a live fish. That would be even worse than eating raw oysters. Boys. She looked over at Potato. Like Natasia said, groupers didn’t have to put up with little brothers.

As if to show her how it was done, Potato slowly ambled up in front of Miri. She angled her head down, opened her gaping mouth wide, and waited. Hovering. Pretty soon, several little fish with black stripes down the length of their bodies, a type of wrasse, swam up to her. They started darting nervously in and out of her mouth, pausing to pick things out of her gills. Miri still wasn’t too excited about letting little fish nibble on her. But she did want to get the algae off. And at least they wouldn’t be swimming into her mouth.

She moved up to the cleaning station, turned upside down and tried to hold very, very still. A yellow tang appeared and hovered at the edge of Miri’s view. It darted in a couple of times, testing things out. But when the fish got brave enough to barely touch her with its lips, Miri couldn’t help flinching. The yellow fish vanished in a blink. After a couple of seconds, it came back. But it stayed just out of range, waiting, its fins idly fluttering.

Miri forced herself to hold still. Finally, it ventured closer. It took a tentative peck, darted away, and then when Miri didn’t move, swam back. Another fish joined in, nibbling on the inside of her elbow. Miri couldn’t help it. She giggled. The fish disappeared in a flash. But she stayed upside down and one fish returned. Its bravery soon prompted others to join in. It wasn’t so bad to get kissed by fish. It tickled more than anything.

Miri and Fisk were both on their heads, trying not to giggle, when Fisk’s sister swam up.

“There you are!” said Natasia. “I’ve been looking all over! What in the ocean are you two doing?” she asked as she got closer.

“Miri was having a bit of an algae problem so I’m showing her how to take care of it.”

“Boys,” said Natasia to Miri. “They’ll do anything to avoid taking a bath.”

“A bath?” said Miri swishing right-side up. The yellow tangs scattered like fall leaves kicked out of a pile and caught on the wind.

“Yeah. A bath, you know, where you get in a tub with soap and scrub all over,” said Fisk. “Boring.”

“Of course I know what a bath is,” said Miri. She had wondered why there was a bathtub next to the sink in her room. It hadn’t made any sense to her since mermaids spent half their time in the water anyway. Mermaids take baths. Who knew?

Natasia wasn’t paying any attention to them. She was studying Miri thoughtfully. “You probably just need a scratchier sponge. Come on. We can stop by the bath shop on our way home.”

best books for girls : All That Glitters cover 188 x 250 If you'd like to read more about Miri's mermaid adventures, you can read a free sample and get your own copy of Miri Attwater and All that Glitters at Amazon!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

More on Fish Cleaning Stations

coral reef
Coral reef in Ras Muhammad nature park (Sinai, Egypt).By Mikhail Rogov, via Wikimedia Commons
As I mention in last weeks post about fish cleaning stations, I didn't intend to do any research for the Miri Attwater series. So when I did start doing some research, I wasn't doing it like I would if I had been writing a non-fiction book about marine biology. I wasn't taking a lot of detailed notes with page numbers and cross-referencing. I wasn't double checking to see if information I got in one source could be confirmed by other sources. I wasn't looking at a lot of original sources - meaning I wasn't reading scientific research articles in marine biology journals. Because I know from my text book writing and editing work that there is lots of misinformation in science books and text books, and it gets copied when writers don't go back to original sources. Writing a really well researched science book takes time - a lot of it. And it helps if you're an expert in the field.

Really, my first goal for my research was to look at pretty pictures so I could make the underwater scenes in the book more real to the reader.

I probably shouldn't have been surprised that the more I saw, the more amazed I became by the diversity of marine life. But I still wanted to write a fantasy, not a nonfiction informational book. So I didn't keep detailed lists and notes of all the information I came across. I felt like if I did that kind of in-depth research and note taking, then I would start to develop a list of things that I wanted to include in the book. Then all the information would be in danger of taking over from the story. I wanted the story to be most important. There were some subjects that I ended up reading in depth on both in books and on the web. Others things I thought were interesting, but I didn't know immediately when I saw them that I would use them in the story. They just became some of my general background knowledge that I had about life in the ocean. The fish cleaning stations in the scene in Miri Attwater and all That Glitters were one of those. I don't know quite when it occurred to me that it would make a fun scene.

cleaner fish and potato cod
 A potato cod is cleaned by two striped cleaner wrasse, By Richard Ling, via Wikimedia Commons
It wasn't until I was reviewing videos for this series of posts that I realized something. In all the videos I was viewing, yellow tangs and other cleaner fish were eating algae off the backs of turtles. Wrasse were the cleaner fish cleaning sharks and rays, and lots of other fish - including yellow tangs. And when I viewed videos with commentary, they mentioned that wrasse were eating dead skin and parasites. They didn't say anything about wrasse eating algae.

While I have both tangs and wrasse in the cleaning station scene, I have Miri and Fisk having the algae cleaned off them by wrasse. Oops! Did I make a mistake?

Information about fish cleaning stations isn't easy to find. I think perhaps it's one of those areas of science that's an emerging area of research. Maybe because as Howard Hall, and IMAX photographer, mentions in his notes while filming his latest movie, cleaner fish and cleaning can be disturbed by divers. I did find a bunch of mentions on aquarium boards that people talked about their wrasse eating algae, but I still wasn't sure.

I got really excited when I finally found this website: Cleaner Fish do Clean by Coral Reef Ecology Laboratory. Now I could satisfy the only definitive way to be sure of an answer in science - ask an expert! I contacted Dr. Lexa Grutter, and she was kind enough to answer me back. Sure enough, biologists consider wrasse carnivores, which means for a wrasse to clean Miri she would probably have to have a cut or be infected by parasites. Ooh, yuck!

It's a pretty minor detail. Most readers are likely to only remember that Miri was cleaned by fish at a cleaning station and learn a little tiny bit more about the wondrous life under the ocean. And since some people have reported their aquarium wrasse eating algae, I could have satisfied the question by saying that the wrasse in Kai Kaona might act a little bit different. I do describe all the marine life in Kai Kaona as being transplanted from all over the world, like in our gardens and zoos. But, I like to be as accurate as possible.

So I tweaked the scene by having the cleaner fish that tickle Miri while they're eating algae be yellow tangs instead. I'll post the corrected excerpt on next week's posts. I'll also ask Amazon to make corrected versions available to readers who have already purchased, Miri Attwater and All That Glitters as soon as I can get the new copy uploaded.

If you want to learn more about fish cleaning stations, here's a great video to get a good overview of lots of different cleaner fish and their behaviors.

And if you need to write a report or you'd like to learn even more about cleaner fish and fish cleaning stations, check out the following websites.

(Kids, always ask your parents before clicking on outbound links.)
Cleaner Fish do Clean by Coral Reef Ecology Laboratory
Turtle Cleaning Stations on

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Fish cleaning stations like in Miri Attwater and All That Glitters really exist!

fish cleaning station
A dragon wrasse being cleaned by Rainbow cleaner wrasses on a reef in Hawaii. By Brocken Inaglory via Wikimedia Commons
When I started writing the Miri Attwater books, I wasn't planning on doing any research. They were fantasy, after all. I could make up anything I wanted. But when I started writing the underwater scenes, they felt flat and dim. They didn't have the vividness I remembered from my snorkeling trips. It seemed like a great excuse to do some research! So I started watching movies about ocean life.
One of the things that delighted me in the underwater footage were fish cleaning stations, places on reefs where fish would gather to clean and be cleaned.

In the video below, a tiny striped wrasse cleans a much bigger fish. It's amazing how it will go inside the bigger fish's mouth and not get eaten! Wrasse were the type of fish that cleaned Potato in Miri Attwater and All That Glitters. Watch for the tail of one of the wrasse poking periodically out of the mouth of the bigger fish. Cleaner fish will even do this for fish that are predators of other fish. Fish cleaning fish, fish cleaning sharks, fish cleaning rays, shrimp cleaning fish, and fish cleaning turtles. In this video, fish clean algae off the back of a turtle, just like in Miri Attwater and All That Glitters. Surgeonfish, also often called tangs, are one of the types of fish that do this type of cleaning. Doesn't it look like the fish are kissing the turtle? That's a lot of love! Fish cleaning stations are many and varied, and at each cleaning station different protocols have developed. At one turtle cleaning station I saw in a video, the turtles signal their desire to be cleaned by swimming on their heads! And shrimp have even cleaned the teeth and fingers of willing scuba divers.

The idea for the scene where Miri and Fisk let fish eat algae off of them came from these fish cleaning stations. But when I started looking for videos to show in for this post, I realized I'd made a slight mistake in that scene. I'll talk about it in next week's post.

Want to learn more? Check out my posts below.

(I make every effort to make sure the links below go to pages that don't have too much advertising that might be inappropriate, but websites do change. Kids if you want to learn more or need to write a school report about fish, ask your parents before you go to the following attachments.)

Read more about the yellow tang at
Read more about the goldring surgeonfish on
Read more about wrasses on and about Mutualism and The Cleaner Wrasse from UH Biology.
Cleaner Fish wear Uniforms on is also about wrasses.
Sea Turtle Facts on AquaZone.
Green Sea Turtles on
Not to leave out the sharks and rays, check out Sharks and Rays gather in fish cleaning stations on

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Review of Miri Attwater and All That Glitters by Books, Babies, and Bows

I'm excited about Books, Babies, and Bows review of Miri Attwater and All that Glitters!

Books, Babies, and Bows said that in All That Glitters "...the masterfully laid out mystery in the book had us quickly turning pages..."

And that "...E. S. Ivy uses her scientific background to weave real science seamlessly into the storyline."

fish cleaning station
A dragon wrasse being cleaned by Rainbow cleaner wrasses on a reef in Hawaii. By Brocken Inaglory via Wikimedia Commons
 On of the favorite parts for Jenny and her two daughters  was the scene where Miri visits a fish cleaning station to remove the algae growing on her skin. Did you also wonder if fish cleaning stations are real? They are!

When I first learned about them I was fascinated too. Next week, I'll start a series of posts about fish cleaning stations.

Books, Babies, and Bows is a wonderful review site where Jenny reviews kids' books with her two young daughters in mind. Hop on over and read the full review of Miri Attwater and All That Glitters over at Books, Babies, and Bows and find other great kids' books while you're there.