Written by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by James Croft
(Candlewick Press, 2003)
It is commonly stated that boys like nonfiction. They love trivia such as what appears in the annual editions of the Guinness Book of Records and Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. They will study sports stats and videogame manuals. And if it's the right topic, they will read a book cover to cover on a single subject. Dinosaurs, monster trucks, animal feces...almost irresistible. Same for sharks. But the typical shark book entices readers with an open-mouthed Great White on the cover or, at the very least, in a prominently displayed glossy spread. Sharks are ferocious, savage, purveyors of blood and guts.
Thankfully, there is Surprising Sharks to defuse the Peter Benchley/Steven Spielberg-spawned sensationalism. There isn't a drop of blood to be found on the pages. Instead, James Croft's colorful illustrations portray a Great White about to feast on a swirl of water and Basking Shark set to make a meal of plankton.
Humph. A boy might just return the book to the shelf and check out a book on hamsters instead. (They eat their young, don't they?) But wait! Nicola Davies hooks readers from the outset, playing off the classic Jaws scenario of danger lurking below the submerged feet of a swimmer. She refers to a "giant man-eating killer". "SHAAAAARRRKK!" Upon turning the page, the reader sees a swimmer with a mask coming face to face with the not-so-dreaded Dwarf Lantern Shark, described as "just bigger than a chocolate bar". It's the perfect way to reel in the reader.
Davies shares facts about a range of sharks and dispels the notion that these creatures are relentless human predators. While six humans per year are killed by sharks, people slaughter 100,000,000 sharks over the same span.
The trivia will fascinate readers, apt to absorb more information from repeated readings. Moreover the pages are bookended with double-spread drawings of different sharks drawn to scale. The illustrations, the humor, the facts to debunk sharks' bum rap and the info-bites that will interest both younger and older readers make Surprising Sharks the perfect information book.