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Mother of Sharks - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I love how informational fiction allows the facts and true core of a story to be presented with a touch of magic. In this stunning book, a talking crab and a bit of time travel bring a fun and child-centric focus to the autobiography of the shark scientist Melissa Cristina Márquez.

Cover image of Mother of Sharks

Mother of Sharks


Author: Melissa Cristina Márquez


Illustrator: Devin Elle Kurtz


Publisher: Penguin Workshop (2023)


Ages: 5-8


Informational Fiction


Themes:

Ocean conservation, Latine scientists, sharks, curiosity, and STEM.


Synopsis:

As the sun sets over another gorgeous day at la Playita Del Condado in Puerto Rico, Meli doesn't want to go home. She loves the ocean more than anything, and with only five minutes left at the beach, she knows exactly where her last stop should be: the tidal pools. They are small universes of their own teeming with critters and creatures of the ocean. While looking into the pools, she meets a crab, Jaiba, who takes her on a dreamlike underwater adventure, teaches her about the importance of shark conservation, and reveals Meli's ultimate destiny: to become the Mother of Sharks.


Blending the autobiographical with the fantastical, Melissa Cristina Márquez shares her incredible story not only to dispel myths about these misunderstood creatures but also to pave the way for Latinas in STEM. Paired with Devin Elle Kurtz's vibrant, emotive illustrations, this picture book is an irresistible journey through the wonders of the ocean and, above all, a rallying cry for marine conservation.


Opening Lines:

The setting sun shimmered against the calm waves as I took one

last dip in the silky turquoise waters of la Playita Del Condado.

“¡Meli, vamos! Dijiste ʻcinco minutos más’ hace cinco

minutos!” my mami called from the shore.

The only problem was when I had to go home.

"Just five more minutes, ¡te lo prometo!” I exclaimed, fiddling with

the necklace my abuela had given me. It was my prized possession.


What I LOVED about this book:

"Sheer magic" is how I describe this book and its opening spread. I love the sparkling ocean and Meli silhouetted against the glorious glow of the approaching. I adore the way the Spanish is organically woven into Meli's speech and thoughts.

Internal spread - on left, Mom & Meli waving. On right, Meli silhouteed by setting sun looking at ocean.ft)

Text © Melissa Cristina Márquez, 2023. Image © Devin Elle Kurtz, 2023.


Her love of the ocean and joy in being a part of it radiate from Meli as she scrambles to a tidepool and discovers a speckled shell with an unusual hermit crab. When she wonders what to name the crab, it suggests - “¡Mis amigos me llaman Jaiba!” After a pinky and claw shake, Jaiba notes it's nice "to have a name for the girl with the ocean in her heart." The text is just as beautiful and touching as the illustrations.

Internal spread - on left, Meli looks into a tide pool. On the right, Meli picks up and cradles a crab in her hands.

Text © Melissa Cristina Márquez, 2023. Image © Devin Elle Kurtz, 2023.


Though I never met a talking crab (or I don't think I did), I was often the last one coaxed out of the tidepools and surf. I have always loved the ocean - splashing, exploring, drifting, and snorkeling - the sound of waves is always calming and welcoming. Devin Elle Kurtz's use of light, colors, and textures make a reader linger on each page, marveling at all the little details (or dream of jumping through the pages to join Meli). Especially when Jaiba invites Meli on an adventure. . .

Internal spread of Meli and Jaiba diving around a reef.

Text © Melissa Cristina Márquez, 2023. Image © Devin Elle Kurtz, 2023.


Isn't this stunning! In the "endless bright turquoise," Meli discovers "ancient sandy highways" and a "rush hour" of fish. It adds to the magic that Devin didn't feel the need to encase her head in a bubble, but just lets Meli be part of the ocean. When Jaiba shows her bleached portions of the reef, Meli spots "the most beautiful creature [she'd] ever seen" (a mako shark) trapped by a net and rushes to help. At the snap of a claw, Jaiba transports them to a room, a library, an auditorium, and a boat. Observant readers will enjoy discovering the subtle hints Devin wove into the illustrations.


As she snaps through places and time, Meli learns about sharks and many of the ways scientists study them. On the last boat, Meli meets..... If you can't get the book right away to see this touching and magical moment, jump over to Melissa Christina Marquez's and Devin Elle Kurtz's interview on Monday. They chose these next two scenes as their favorite images.


With the most awesome touching and empowering ending, this informational "autobiographical" fiction is a treasure; a sheer delight to enjoy over and over again. The back matter includes a "Letter to ...You!" (author’s note), glossary, resources, Spanish translations. Woven through Meli's discovery of who can be a scientist is a poignant and powerful call to protect our oceans. It's a wonderful STEM book to encourage kids to follow their dreams, explore the ocean, and dive into science.


Resources:

Picture of a yellow origami hermit crab.

- make you own magical origami hermit crab. Where would you and your crab visit?


- do you like sharks? What is your favorite shark? If not, what is your favorite ocean creature? Why? Go to the library and find out something new about this animal or a scientist who studies them.


- if you can go to a beach do a tidepool scavenger hunt (East Coast / West Coast), draw or make a list of everything you see in a tidepool, or check out NOAA's interactive tidepool.


- pair this with Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns, The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World's Coral Reefs: The Story of Ken Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation by Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe, and Secrets of the Sea: The Story of Jeanne Power, Revolutionary Marine Scientist by Evan Griffith, illustrated by Joanie Stone.


If you missed the interview with Melissa Christina Marquez and Devin Elle Kurtz on Monday, find it (here).


This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions and resources see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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