The Bookworm: Shark adventures and family drama

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“The Ultimate Book of Sharks”

  • By Brian Skerry with Elizabeth Carney and Sarah Wassner Flynn
  • c. 2018, National Geographic Kids
  • $19.99, $25.99 Canada; 192 pages

Smile nice for the camera. That’s something you’ve been doing practically all summer. Smiling at family reunions. Cheesing on vacation. Grinning at Grandma’s house. The camera comes out and you have to show your pearly whites. So read “The Ultimate Book of Sharks” by Brian Skerry with Elizabeth Carney and Sarah Wassner Flynn, and imagine the fun of razor-sharp teeth.

“The Ultimate Book of Sharks” by Brian Skerry with Elizabeth Carney and Sarah Wassner Flynn

“Picture a shark,” says Brian Skerry. In your mind’s eye, what does it look like?  Is it big and gray, or polka-dotted?  Does it have teeth that look like scrub brushes, or monstrous triangular chompers? Would you believe that those are descriptions of sharks of one sort or another? Yep, there are many kinds of sharks and in this book, you’ll learn about some of them.

Take, for instance, the lantern shark that lives in super-deep water and acts like a glow-stick. Or how about the frilled shark, which resembles a sea serpent. And then there’s the thresher shark, with a tail that almost doubles its length! You might even want to take a pyjama shark to bed with you, because it looks so sweet and cuddly.

Those aren’t like the sharks you’re familiar with, but don’t worry: the TV-star sharks are in here, too. There’s the Great White, who (believe it or not) is not the deadliest shark, according to Skerry. There’s the bull shark, which can make a snack out of a turtle in a second. And there’s the total weirdness of the hammerhead, which looks like he was made of leftover parts.

There’s shark trivia inside this book. You’ll learn the many ways that sharks can tell when dinner is near. Find out why sharks didn’t exactly leave clear fossils millions of years ago; yes, some species of sharks are older than dinosaurs! And if you’d like to see sharks up-close, there’s a map of places you can go and it’s kind of safe-ish to do so. Scientists say that you have a very low chance of being bitten and that sharks really don’t like to eat humans – but seriously, don’t take chances.

Let’s face it: whether you’re nine or 89, there’s something about a mindless marine killing machine that can eat you. And that’s why your child needs “The Ultimate Book of Sharks”: because this book busts myths like those.

Indeed, author Brian Skerry offers facts for kids, as well as plenty of information to school them on the fish they love. With Elizabeth Carney and Sarah Wassner Flynn, Skerry also writes of adventures he’s had with sharks and reasons to leave them alone, and his admiration for them is not only clear, but contagious. If your kids aren’t already wild over sharks, they will be after they’ve spent time with this full-color book – and then Skerry hooks them further with hints for the conservation-minded.

This book is perfect for the obsessed 9-to-12-year-old, and the kid who’s just plain curious. Older kids with an eye on marine studies might like “The Ultimate Book of Sharks,” too; it’s something they can really bite into.

“Better Late Than Never”

  • By Kimberla Lawson Roby
  • c. 2018, Grand Central Publishing
  • $26, $34 Canada; 306 pages

Life has handed you a lot of chances. You’ve taken some, for good or not. Others, you’ve passed up, and regretted it. Maybe you’d be richer today. Maybe you’d be poorer. For sure, you’d have an existence unlike what you have now and, as in the new novel “Better Late Than Never” by Kimberla Lawson Roby, you wonder what might’ve been …

First Lady Charlotte Black was tired. Every Sunday for 19 years, she’d gotten up, put on her finest clothes and her best face, and gone to church with her husband, Reverend Curtis Black, leader of Deliverance Outreach. That’s a lot of Sundays, a lot of dressing up, of pretending to be nice to people Charlotte really didn’t want anything to do with.

“Better Late Than Never” by Kimberla Lawson Roby.

She was going to tell Curtis soon that she was taking a sabbatical, but she had to wait because of drama: their daughter, Curtina, was having some sort of pre-teen phase and Curtis’s sister, Trina, was sick.

In the meantime, Charlotte coped by drinking vodka.

Twelve-year-old Curtina’s parents were always treating her like an infant. They never let her leave the house whenever she wanted and she had strict bedtimes, even on weekends. As for hanging out with her friends, forget it. Her parents even took her phone away! It was so unfair and it would be much worse, had Curtina not caught her mother drinking.

Blackmail was a good thing. Secrets were even better. The phone call that Curtis Black received from his brother-in-law was one he never thought he’d get.

“Better Late Than Never” author Kimberla Lawson Roby.

It had been decades since Curtis had seen his sister, Trina. At 18, he’d left home, escaping an abusive father, abandoning Trina and their mother with an angry, bullying alcoholic. Leaving had been self-preservation; Curtis had been planning an escape for years by then and he hadn’t seen Trina but a handful of times since. Now her husband had called to tell Curtis that she was dying.

That brought back every bad memory Curtis had. Was it too late to replace them with answers and better kinds of memories?

All good things, as they say, must come to an end and, alas, that includes characters and book series. In “Better Late Than Never,” it also goes for the Curtis Black family.

But fear not – author Kimberla Lawson Roby doesn’t send readers away with a whimper in this book. No, this novel goes out with a gentle bang that includes the scandals you need but not the profanity you don’t. That gives this novel – the entire series, in fact – a curious soap-opera feel, but churchy: everybody in the Curtis Black series has some sort of mess attached to their lives at some point or another and it’s oh-no delicious but God forgives and so, eventually, does everybody else.

If you’re not familiar with Curtis Black, don’t start here; go back to Book One and dive in. You’ll be happier that way. If you’re a fan, though, “Better Late Than Never” is the end of the line, and how could you miss your chance?

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.