May 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Skinny on Sharks: Scintillating Summer Reads

Discovery Channel’s Shark Week 2017 kicks off on Sunday July 23 with “Phelps Vs. Shark: The Battle for Ocean Supremacy,” a showdown that pits the world-record-holding Olympian against a great white shark. Whether or not kids are fans of Shark Week programming, the high-interest nonfiction titles featured here will keep them reading throughout the summer, inspire interest in marine biology, and add depth to any STEM collection.

Jess Keating and Marta Álvarez Miguéns’s Shark Lady (Sourcebooks, Jun. 2017; K-Gr 4) provides an engaging introduction to groundbreaking marine biologist Eugenie Clark (1922-2015). Lovely warm-hued artwork and inviting text draw readers into the experiences of the young Eugenie, describing Saturday trips to the aquarium and summertime swims at the beach in Atlantic City, dreaming all the while about what it would like to swim with sharks. Determined that the whole world should see these “beautiful” creatures through her eyes, she dove into studying them—reading about different species, recording facts and daydreams in notebooks, and joining a local aquarium society. Later on, despite hearing from many who believed that “women weren’t smart enough to be scientists or brave enough to explore the oceans” (“Forget those sharks! Be a secretary! Be a housewife!”), she unwaveringly followed a dream “as big as a whale shark” and pursued a degree in zoology. Throughout her long and illustrious career, she fearlessly dove the world’s oceans, made numerous important discoveries, and worked tirelessly to change perceptions of these much-maligned animals (far from “mindless killers,” sharks are intelligent animals that “deserved to be studied,…protected,…and loved”). Fascinating for its array of shark facts and discoveries, interesting for its glimpse at how scientists study and work in the field, and inspiring for its message about holding fast to one’s aspirations despite the opinions of others, this book will captivate and inform young readers.

They may be a bit, well, “SCARY,” but what would happen If Sharks Disappeared (Roaring Brook, May. 2017; K-Gr 2)? Lily Williams’s appealing artwork and easy-to-follow text examine the vital role played by these often-misunderstood creatures in maintaining a healthy and well-balanced ocean ecosphere. A young explorer on a boating outing with her family acts as host as she peers through her binoculars to observe marine inhabitants, poses on a timeline exhibiting the 450-million-year-old presence of sharks on Earth, or unrolls a map showing ocean habitats. Williams explains how the loss of sharks, an apex predator, “can cause devastating effects in an environment,” and that an alarming number of species are vulnerable to extinction due to overfishing. The pages that follow hypothesize about the resulting trophic cascade if sharks were to vanish—a loss of species that reverberates down the food chain until the ocean is left bereft of life and turned to “thick sludge” by an overabundance of plankton, which in turn could impact land animals, and even eventually spread “to…US.” This possible outcome is bleak, but a lush fold-down spread teeming with marine animals reassures readers that we haven’t gotten there yet. In fact, “if we work together, sharks—and our whole planet as we know it—will thrive.” A useful glossary expounds upon many of the ideas and terms presented in the text, and back matter includes tips for how readers can help save sharks. Underscoring the vital importance of conservation and ecological balance, this book makes a complex topic accessible while winning over new shark advocates.

Blending eye-catching stylized artwork, interesting graphics, and lively text, Owen Davey’s entrancing informational picture book encourages readers to dive right in and become Smart About Sharks (Flying Eye, 2016; Gr 1-4). Cleverly titled two-page sections briefly cover species and groupings, physical characteristics, diet, hunting behaviors, social life, reproduction, and more. A beguiling spread introduces “award” winning species, including shortfin makos (fastest swimmer and highest jumper), epaulette sharks (able to hold their breath and shuffle across rocks to hunt prey), and swell sharks (noteworthy for the barking sound they make after puffing up to protect themselves from predators). Throughout, visual images are effectively utilized to convey important concepts. For example, a drawn-to-scale spread shows the far-ranging size differences among shark species (and a kayaker); silhouettes of a brown fur seal, a green sea turtle, and a human on a surfboard illuminate how a great white could make mistakes about possible prey; and pie-chart-style diagrams illustrate how the hammerhead shark’s uniquely placed eyes allow it a greater range of vision as compared to other sharks or a human. This fun-to-browse book ends with a glimpse at shark mythology, ecological concerns, and ways to keep oceans healthy.

Ruth A. Musgrave’s Mission: Shark Rescue (National Geographic, 2016; Gr 2-5) is filled with fascinating facts and stunning full-color photos. Readers will be hooked from the prologue, which introduces Atlas, a nearly seven-foot-long dusky shark spotted near Cat Island in the Bahamas with a discarded piece of fishing net encircling his head. Cutting into his flesh and restricting his movement, this “rope necklace” made it impossible to hunt effectively, and even when it was removed by divers, the much-weakened shark’s future was in jeopardy (a happy ending is revealed at the book’s conclusion). In-depth chapters delve into physical and behavioral characteristics, evolution and species varieties, reproduction and early life, hunting techniques and diet, the complex relationship between sharks and humans, and conservation. The well-written text continually emphasizes the vital importance of safeguarding sharks, maintaining healthy ecosystems, and continuing the quest for knowledge. Profiles of scientists working in the field are scattered throughout, as are “Rescue Activities” that highlight projects and challenges designed to help kids take an active role in saving sharks. Ranging from an underwater shot of a scientist attaching a Crittercam device to a tiger shark, to a closeup of a swell shark hatching from its egg case, to a great white surging above the water’s surface jaws open wide to capture a seal, the abundant high-quality photographs will keep youngsters turning pages.

Packed with intriguing facts, memorable images, and well-warranted enthusiasm for these mysterious marine predators, these titles help youngsters separate fact from fiction and transform shark enthusiasts into shark activists.

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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