Thursday, March 12, 2009

Beyond Jaws: Sharks: Biggest! Littlest! by Sandra Markle

Oh, Jaws is here, all right. After all, a book about the biggest and littlest sharks has to include one of the ocean's largest predators, the Great White, who, with their 100 two-inch teeth, can polish off a seal (or movie actress) before breakfast.

But Sandra Markle's new shark saga, Sharks: Biggest! Littlest!, gives only a passing nod to the Great White, even dissing him a bit, reminding us that he's the puny descendant of the REAL bad boy of the ancient seas, the Megatooth Shark. The rest of her book describes some of the lesser-known and weirder members of the shark family.

Markle begins with those "toothless" giant sharks, the Whale Sharks and Basking Sharks, who cruise around taking in tiny fish and plankton to fortify their huge appetites. Then she turns to some of the most fascinating of sharks, Spined Pygmy Sharks, which fit into a hand like minnows, and the Ornate Wobbegong, whose flubbery head with its protruding skin flaps trailing like seaweed help to camouflage the shark as it rests on the ocean floor and waits for prey.

But perhaps the most curious of predatory styles is that of the Cookie-Cutter Shark:

The Cookie-cutter's eyes are positioned to let the shark look down and keep watch.

When it sees a predator come close, it twists around and bites.

Now the predator is the prey.

The shark's fleshy lips lock on and its long, sharp lower teeth dig in.

The predator's forward motion makes the Cookie-Cutter Shark spin around.

This way, its teeth slice out a cookie-shaped plug of flesh. Then it lets go and swims away fast.

Markle also describes the feeding behavior of some other oddities--the Thresher Shark, who uses his oversized tail to herd and stun his prey; the Longnose Sawshark who uses long whisker-like projections from his extended saw-toothed jaw to feel for small fish hiding on the sandy bottom; and the Swell Shark which discourages predators by inhaling water and blowing up to twice his size. Also featured are the Hammerhead, Horned Shark, and Lemon Shark, in which Markle describes how size and other anatomical characteristics represent the animal's adaptations for finding food in its environment. The author skillfully works in important information about how the shark's skin with its denticles, its continuous replacement of teeth, and its body shape and fins allow for successful predation over its life cycle.

Full-page and smaller color photos, sharp and detailed, extend the text perfectly, making all of the featured sharks memorable to the reader. The basic text is written at a primary level, and, although technical terms (such as denticle and predator) boost the overall reading level to 4.5, these are also defined in the appended glossary. Back matter also includes a full-page world map showing where the featured sharks live, a bibliography, and useful web sites which offer informational photo galleries, videos, slide shows, games, and tips for protecting endangered sharks. This title is equally appealing to elementary readers for browsing or as a source for science reports.

Other excellent illustrated animal books, including more sharks, by Sandra Markle can be found here.

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  • You might think it would be hard for one of the world’s largest fish to hide for months at a time. But the whereabouts of the 32-foot (10-meter) long basking shark for half the year have long been a mystery to humans.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:10 AM  

  • Shark attack victim Jonathan Leon Guerrero gave a one-on-one account of a fishing story that he's happy he survived to tell. The 27-year-old shark bite survivor from Astumbo, Dededo says he his twin brother and three of his friends went spearfishing over the reef Tuesday afternoon at Ritidian Beach when a shark began to circle them.
    "So I was in this one spot where all the fish were at and I was just shooting having a good time shooting all the fish I can," he recalled. "And then my friends came and when they came a shark came and it was surrounding us."

    By Anonymous James, at 8:15 AM  

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