Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Admiration For Earth's Survivors

If you set the acquired fear aside, in its place is utter respect.  They have

survived five major extinction events, including one 65 million years ago that destroyed the dinosaurs.

Their skin is uniquely designed for speed.  Some of their species can swim up to sixty miles per hour.  Attempts have been made to duplicate their skin in swimwear for athletes.  As a top predator in the food chain their very existence is essential to maintaining a balance in our oceans.

One woman devoted her life to dispelling the fear, replacing it with verifiable facts.  Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist (Sourcebooks, Jabberwocky, June 6, 2017) written by Jess Keating with illustrations by Marta Alvarez Miguens presents to readers how one girl grew a dream from a passionately planted seed to a full-blown bloom of reality.  Readers can easily connect with Eugenie Clark and her sharks.

It was Saturday, and Eugenie wanted to stay at the aquarium forever.

While she was at the aquarium she would watch the sharks longer than the other animals even pretending to walk through the sea rather than the facility.  A big supporter of Eugenie's dream, her mom would take her to the shore so she could swim.  Can you believe this little girl stuck gum in her ears so she could dive?  Nothing was going to keep her from exploring her already beloved ocean.

Though she wished to swim with sharks, she first had to learn everything she could about them.  She read and wrote and read and wrote some more.  To her surprise her mom bought her a fifteen-gallon fish tank to bring a watery world into their small apartment.  For a girl with Eugenie's desires this was one step closer to making her greatest wish come true.

As she continued her studies, her dream was not easy to accomplish with current beliefs as to what a woman should or shouldn't do.  Studying sharks was clearly not what a woman should be doing but Eugenie did and she did it very well.  After college graduation Eugenie finally got to swim in the open ocean.  In the Red Sea she discovered three new species!

Can you imagine how thrilled she was when she swam near her first wild shark or found a cave of sleeping sharks?  As prejudice against sharks grew so did Eugenie's persistence in proving those thoughts wrong.  Her gift to the world is to never give up on your dream.  One person can make a difference for the good.

Eugenie was the first scientist in the world to train sharks and even learned they could remember their training for at least two months after.

What makes readers feel as though Eugenie Clark is a friend of theirs (or they wish she was a friend) is the style of writing used by Jess Keating.  Throughout this book she brings us into the exact moment Eugenie is experiencing.  She describes the setting in sensory terms.  She describes what Eugenie is feeling through explicit examples revealing her research into this remarkable woman.

She supplies us interesting facts as Eugenie moves closer and closer to making her dream a reality.  Keating does not shy away from the unfounded opinions of those against Eugenie's pursuits or sharks.  By referring to Eugenie diving figuratively and literally she fashions a rhythmic thread throughout the text.  She also uses the words smart and brave to reinforce important points more than once. Here are two sample passages.

So she dove...

...this time into books.  Whale sharks.  Nurse sharks.  Tiger sharks.  Lemon sharks.  Eugenie wanted to know about them all.  She also joined the Queens County Aquarium Society as its youngest member.

Eugenie's notebooks filled with sharks.  They swam in her daydreams and on the margins of her pages.

When readers first see the matching dust jacket and book case for this title, given any preconceptions they have about sharks, they are going to want to read this book.  Who is this woman swimming near a shark?  The design of the front with the plant life and small fishes providing a frame for Eugenie Clark and the shark is marvelous.  The complementary colors with the bold white textured main title along with the varnished portions give the impression of being under water.  To the left, on the back, a younger Eugenie is diving along the shore in a circular setting with fish and plant life breaking the border.  This is varnished also.

The opening and closing endpapers are a blue on blue display of a variety of sharks with their common and scientific names.  On the first they are swimming to the right and on the second they are swimming to the left.  Clever.  Beneath the text on the title page Eugenie has risen to the surface of the water with a small fish swimming in a jar she holds.

Rendered in Adobe Photoshop the full color artwork by Marta Alvarez Miguens spans single pages, double pages, pages crossing the gutter from one side to the other to form a column for text, a group of three on one page and is featured in a circle or an oval on a single page.  Each image size is carefully visualized to enhance the text.  The people and their personalities in these illustrations are a variety of ages, ethnicities and from all walks of life.  The settings in which they are placed and their clothing is appropriate for the time periods.  It's their facial expressions which will connect to readers the most.

The underwater images will take your breath away in their hues and representation of the plant and animal life.  By altering the perspectives in these, Miguens brings us into each depiction.  Another stunning portrayal is the picture with Eugenie looking through the glass of a shop highlighting shark fishing for sport, newspaper headlines about sharks, shark fin soup and a set of a shark's jaw and teeth.

One of my favorite of several pictures is when Eugenie starts to dive into books.   It spans two pages.  On the right Eugenie is seated at a table surrounded by books and there are more stacked on a chair next to her.  She is at the public library.  Swimming from the left amid the shelves are three sharks.  It's a blend of the natural world with a human-made environment.

One of the best things about nonfiction picture books is learning something new about a particular person, place or thing.  What makes Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist written by Jess Keating with illustrations by Marta Alvarez Miguens the finest example of this is how it enlarges our understanding of an incredible creature and the woman who loved them.  To finish this title two pages, Shark Bites, give us eight extended facts about sharks.  Following these are two pages dedicated to a timeline of Eugenie Clark's life and accomplishments.  Jess Keating concludes with an Author's Note and Bibliography.  

To discover more about Jess Keating and Marta Alvarez Miguens please visit their online presence by following the links attached to their names.  The cover reveal for this title along with an interview by teacher librarian Matthew Winner of both Keating and Miguens is found at All The Wonders.  Scholastic Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, features Jess Keating on his site here and premieres the book trailer here.  Jess Keating wrote a post for the Nerdy Book Club about this title.  The publisher provides an activity kit for this book.  Enjoy this video Jess Keating made about Shark Lady.

UPDATE:  JULY 6, 2017  Jess Keating talks about the writing of this book and the writing of nonfiction on author Tara Lazar's blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).

Make sure you stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to read about the other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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