In preparation for our Materials Review for Educators happening October 3rd starting at 9:00 am at Bear Pond Books, we're highlighting some of our favorites from our stack of 100 nonfiction books of 2014.
It seems so obvious when someone does it (and does it well) - engage readers in learning biology through what may be literally the most attention grabbing conceit in our culture: Shark Attack!
Katherine Roy is not the first author to think of this, but we're going to boldly claim that no one has done it as masterfully as she has.
In the opening of Neighborhood Sharks, Katherine Roy's beautiful, if deadly, illustrations bring us through peaceful ocean 30 miles from San Francisco as a Great White Shark hunts a pinniped (Fact #1 - that's the name for seals and sea lions) . . .peaceful. . . .peaceful. . .then, in an illustration that (there's no other way to say it) leaps off the page, our shark attacks and catches the unsuspecting prey.
And she's got our attention.
But it's not all for the shock value. She is going to take apart piece by piece what adds up to that attack, from what brings the pinnipeds to the Farallon Islands, a prime shark feeding ground. . . to how the design of a shark's body allows it to effectively hunt this prey. . . to the scientists who converge on the Farallones to study the sharks. . . to how it all fits into a unique ecosystem.
And it doesn't stop there.
Katherine Roy delivers a great line up of additional resources at the end of her book and on her website. The website also includes plenty of information on the creation of this book (and her other books, including illustrations for S.S. Taylor's popular Expeditioners series). This means that she's covering not only how scientists study and understand the shark, but also the process for telling their story to a wider audience. It's about as rich a starting ground for discussion as a picture book could possibly offer.
We love this book.
We hear a rumor that there's one about elephants on its way.
Since the rumor came from Katherine Roy, it seems credible.
P.S. It bears noting that for readers who are frightened by the shark attack, the illustrations of the seal it has caught become stylized after the deed is done - sort of a seal colored handkerchief floating in the water.