Book Review: Surprising Sharks

surprising_sharksfactfirstSurprising Sharks
Written by: Nicola Davies
Illustrated by: James Croft
Published by: Candlewick Press, 2003
Audience (reading level): 6 to 10 (3.2)

Before we headed out for a long weekend, Catherine and I went to the library. Like most rising second graders, she is still heavily influenced by books on display. When she walked by Surprising Sharks, she immediately back-peddled to look at it again and bring it home for the week. I’m glad she did. Not only did we find a good book, I had something to contribute to Nonfiction Monday!

Did you know there were 500 species of shark? Me neither. Nicola Davies presents lots of fascinating information about sharks, and your first lesson begins on the end flaps. Here, you’ll find illustrations of twelve different shark species, from the Dwarf Lantern Shark (just 6 inches) to the Whale Shark (39 feet, 4 inches).

What captured my attention, though, is how Davies talks about sharks. At first I was taken aback by what seemed to be a less-than-serious presentation. For example, the Blackbelly Lantern Shark has light-making organs on its belly. Davies describes them as “built-in fairy lights” and the illustration has small fish wearing sunglasses traveling under the shark’s belly.

Then, as I watched Catherine, I realized  this  style made learning about something (potentially) scary very approachable for her. She sat and listened to m read about shark habits, including the fact that some sharks eat each other before they are born.

On the first page Davies gets the Great White (which happens to be on the cover) out of the way. With big bold letters in various type fonts, she lets kids ask and answer the question they are most familiar with.

What’s the one word that makes you think of a giant man-eating killer?


From there, she steps back and introduces you to some of the other species of shark, describes their habitat, and talks about their self-defense habits.  Two spreads are dedicated to silhouttes of a shark’s anatomy (one outside, one inside) help kids understand what all sharks have in common.

The illustrations are light-hearted, and maybe a little too cute for my taste, but they kept Catherine reading … and learning. She laughed at some of the references, and the information seems to have stuck. She has since gone back and picked up the book just to explore it on her own, at her own pace.

This is a nonfiction picture book that can be shared as a read aloud, or read independently. The  content, light humor, and illustrations combine to make this a good choice for reluctant readers, too.  I would recommend it for a Kindergarten through second grade audience. It might be a little too cute for some third graders.

Coincidentally, while we were away, Bob Walch, one of our reviewers, sent in a review of Extreme Animals: The Toughest Creatures on Earth, the newest nonfiction picture book by Nicola Davies. Here is the Reading Tub book review I posted on the website this morning.

3 responses to “Book Review: Surprising Sharks

  1. Wouldn’t it be great if all books could be face out in displays? Cover art still prompts me to at least pick up, particularly with non-fiction.

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