Wandering Whale Sharks: An Invitation to Celebrate
With sparse text and space left for mystery, Wandering Whale Sharks, a picture book written and illustrated by Japanese artist Susumu Shingu, is an ode to the largest fish swimming through our ocean waters. The poetic text introduces young readers to whale sharks, first as a shadow, then as a haven for other fish, then piece-by-piece of its enormous body, until we finally see it as a whole moving shark, peacefully making its way through the ocean.
Susumu's reverence for whale sharks is illuminated in both his thoughtful text and carefully hand drawn, monochromatic illustrations. As he describes the whale shark's body, he uses unexpected comparisons like a balloon, a mountain range and snowflakes, images not often associated with sharks, but accessible to young readers. Here is a perfect example of the intersection of art and science; succinct, powerful, informative and beautiful, Wandering Whale Sharks is both educational and inspiring.
Ocean Literacy Principles
Ocean Literacy Principle #5, the ocean supports a great diversity of like and ecosystems.
Ocean Literacy Principle #7, the ocean is largely unexplored.
Activity: An Invitation to Celebrate
Sharks, like lightning and earthquakes, inspire a sense of awe and respect. With rows of sharp, refillable teeth, specialized skin instead of scales, bodies built for speed, sensory systems designed to detect the slightest hint of potential prey, it is no wonder that sharks are some of the ocean's top predators. In some ways, their evolution alone is poetic and like wolves in terrestrial environments they are essential players for maintaining a healthy ocean.
Sharks are part of a large, diverse and ancient family tree, older than dinosaurs. With over 500 known living species, they have evolved in shape and size to accommodate different hunting strategies and environments, some eating plankton, some living as deep as 3,000 ft (900 m) below the surface. They are considered highly evolved, perfectly suited for their environment.
1. Pick a shark species. With so many species of sharks, it may be helpful to have a list to go from:
2. Dive into research.
Where does your shark live?
What does your shark eat?
What does your shark look like?
3. Draw your shark.
Drawing a subject accurately helps us understand the animal we are studying. It helps us notice more about the animal, for example how many gills a shark species has, or the shape of its fins. Accuracy is different than beauty. Encourage yourself (or any art-anxious students) to observe and focus on what information the drawing is sharing, instead of making a beautiful picture.
Scientists who study sharks use different features to identify one species of shark from another. They look at big things, like the shape, size and color of the body, as well as any patterns on their skin. They also look for smaller details, like how many gill slits a shark has, the shape, size and location of their teeth, eyes and fins. Use your observation skills to draw an accurate picture.
As you draw your shark or when you are finished, challenge yourself to finish these sentences:
It reminds me of.....
4. Create a word bank.
What words might be used in your poem to describe your shark? Make a list. Having words like teeth, tail, fin, denticles or sharkskin, gills, eyes, mouth, jaws and nostrils may help brainstorm what to write about.
Create Some Jaw-some Shark Poetry:
Write a list poem, haiku or ode to your species of shark.
For a list poem, first create a list of nouns associated with your shark. Next, brainstorm verbs that could be used after each noun. Play around with the order of the list, feel free to add or subtract from it. Finally, add optional adjectives or adverbs to describe the noun or verb on each line. These relatively simple poems can produce lovely, thoughtful results for even the youngest poets.
For extra help writing list poems, check out Imagination Soup's How to Write a List Poem.
A haiku can be a powerful image despite its short length and because of their brevity they are less intimidating for young poets to attempt. Although there are many forms of haiku, a haiku poem is traditionally about nature and often it describes a moment in time, a single observation. To write a shark haiku, plan to focus in on one or two attributes of the shark.
The format for a haiku poem varies, but when written in English, they are often 17 syllables long, broken into three lines. The first line is 5 syllables, the second line is 7syllables, and the third line is 5 syllables again.
For really sharing your love for sharks, an ode might be best. Wandering Whale Sharks is an example of an ode to whale sharks. Often lyrical, an ode is a poem celebrating a person, place or thing. Each stanza, or section of the poem, can highlight something that makes the shark you choose an amazing sea creature.
For extra help writing an ode, check out Classroom Poems' How to Write an Ode.
Put it all together
Revisit your shark illustration. Add color if you haven't already and any more details you notice after writing your poem. Mount the poem and illustration on a large piece of card stock or construction paper.
The Ultimate Shark Field Guide by Julius Csotonyi
Cider Mill Press
Offering beautiful, double spread illustrations accompanied by digestible facts, this guide to sharks is a good go-to for quick research, especially for less confident readers.
Shark Quest: Protecting the Ocean's Top Predator by Karen Romano Young
Twenty-First Century Books
A chapter book for middle grade readers, Shark Quest is a thorough survey of shark biology, behavior, ecology and conservation. Filled with amazing facts, photographs, infographics and scientific comics, Shark Quest is an engaging read.
If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams
Roaring Brook Press
Still struggling to appreciate sharks? Check out If Sharks Disappeared. Illustrated in a graphic style, it highlights the important role sharks play in the ocean.
My 9-year-old's opinion: "Pretty good. Wow. A lot of death could happen if sharks disappeared."