top of page
  • daniellesdejonge

Mother of Sharks: The Magical Life of Melissa Cristina Márquez

If there was one word I could use to classify the book Mother of Sharks (Penguin Workshop), by Melissa Cristina Márquez and illustrated by Devin Elle Kurtz, it would be dreamy. Mother of Sharks has so many surreal qualities that it took me by surprise, and upends the traditional notions of a science-based book.

The book starts off with Meli, a young girl living in Puerto Rico, asking to swim for just five more minutes. However, it’s within this fraction of a time that Meli meets her fate in the form of a beady-eyed hermit crab who lives in a tidal pool. The magic begins from this point on. Meli states aloud to the crab, “What shall I name you?” and the crab replies, “I could just tell you my name[..]Mis amigos me llama Jaiba!”

When I was reading it for the first time, I thought I maybe missed something, as it was marketed as a biography of a shark scientist, not a fictional story of a girl with “the ocean in her heart”. But as I read, I realized this was indeed a biography, just a type of genre I had not read before: a biography rooted in magical realism. After this, I fell in love with the book. What a gift to look at one’s life and see the magic of the everyday.

Magic in the everyday also describes Kurtz’s artwork within this book. Almost all of the images have a glowing silver lining that sparkles. Something that draws children into the magic. Sharks swim past in several scenes, whether it be the ocean floor, or Meli’s bedroom.

Mother of Sharks encourages readers to be aware of their impacts on ocean biodiversity through story and artwork. When Meli first dives into the ocean with Jaiba, the sparkling glow of the ocean background gradually decreases as she sees a bleached coral reef for the first time, and witnesses a shark caught in netting. Here Jaiba explains the importance of protecting sharks and their environment, and how human activity needs to change in order to do this.

Educating the reader on how they can be an advocate for positive change is a theme. Marquez shows how this ties into the need for a range of authentic voices in science. Characters in Mother of Sharks often speak in Spanish throughout the book. This use of translanguaging is a reflection of what language looks like in the real-world, and within this strength, students are able to see themselves in this book.

All these things being said, with the magical realism and the interwoven Spanish, this book resonated with me as a teacher passionate about affirming my students in their diverse backgrounds. We often talk about how important it is to affirm the dynamic nature of identity with our students, especially those who are navigating a big move or learning new environments.

Lesson Plan

Young Meli observes her future self, and hears her state, “We can’t be what we can’t see”. All students need to see the magic reflected in their identity, and just how amazing their unique perspectives are. In order to affirm this, I created a brief lesson that combines a focus on how our stories can connect in powerful ways to a cause, while also integrating sheltered instruction (a way of gradually integrating new terminology for language learners) of content-area science terminology.

This included several standards and objectives within the lesson, depending on your classroom environment:

Ocean Literacy Principles

  • Principle: #5: The ocean supports supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems

  • Principle #6: The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.

Common Core Standards

  • RI: 6-12: Compare and contrast one author’s presentation of events with that of another

Next Generation Science Standards

  • LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience - Biodiversity describes the variety of species found in Earth’s terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems. The completeness or integrity of an ecosystem’s biodiversity is often used as a measure of its health.

  • LS4.D: Biodiversity and Humans - Changes in biodiversity can influence humans’ resources, such as food, energy, and medicines, as well as ecosystem services that humans rely on—for example, water purification and recycling. (secondary)

  • ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions - There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem. (secondary)

WiDA Framework (English language objective)

  • ELD 6-8 Narrate.Interpretive: Interpret language arts narratives by evaluating impact of specific word choices about meaning and tone.

Hope you enjoy!

Mother of Sharks Lesson
Download PDF • 78KB


bottom of page