Picture Book Review: Shark Nate-O

Shark Nate-OTara Luebbe & Becky Cattie (authors), Daniel Duncan (illus.), Little Bee Books, 2018

Synopsis: Nate loves sharks. He reads shark books every day, watches sharks on TV, and talks about them nonstop. He even likes to pretend he’s a shark wherever he goes! However, there is one small problem. . . . Nate can’t swim.

Shark Nate-O, written by talented sister duo Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie, might have been first released in the U.S., but it is the perfect book for the Australian market. It’s about sharks, and about swimming – the perfect combination for our water-obsessed country!

In the book, Nate is obsessed with sharks, which we see from the text as well as the fun illustrations. However, he soon realises that if he really wants to be a shark (both the animal, and part of the school Sharks swim team), he needs to be able to swim. This isn’t a small matter, considering Nate is afraid of the water.

The book covers Nate’s hard work and determination as he overcomes his fears bit by bit, and reaches for his goals. I adore all the shark-related language throughout that alludes to, and cleverly begins to teach kids about, the various types of shark species. For instance, “He thrashed about like a thresher shark” and “he paddled like a predator.”

There is lots of humour to keep kids chuckling too (this is a big part of the authors’ style); plus kids who are obsessed with the ocean and different sea creatures are also sure to want to read the book over and over again. Hopefully, it will also help encourage other children to become more interested in sea life.

One of my favourite parts of the book is the very last spread – here, readers find two pages of facts about sharks, with pictures and notes about the various species mentioned throughout the book. This makes the story perfect for schools as well as home learning and enjoyment.

I’m sure parents, teachers, and other caregivers will enjoy how the story can be used to prompt discussions about a variety of topics too. Apart from learning to swim, beach safety, sharks, and the ocean, the book also highlights themes of perseverance, self-believe, determination, confidence, and overcoming fears. I liked the use of the swim coach as the supportive adult in the story too. While it’s always nice to see parents, teachers and friends represented in picture books, it’s also good to show children they can learn and receive encouragement from other adults in their lives.

The illustrations in Shark Nate-O were artfully created by Daniel Duncan. His vibrant pictures have a cartoon-like quality that really adds to the humour in the text, and while there are plenty of fun details throughout, there is enough white space that young readers won’t get overwhelmed. Duncan’s illustration style also works well to convey Nate’s varying emotions throughout, both the ups and the downs.

All in all, this is a layered picture book that children will get more out of on each read through. Plus, with such a great name, there will no doubt be plenty of adults out there who want to buy the book for themselves or other fans of the pulpy Sharknado film series!

Recommended for kids aged around three to four years and up.

Please note: a complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Picture Book Review: I Am Famous

I Am Famous, Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie (authors), Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (illus.), Albert Whitman & Company, 2018

Synopsis: Kiely knows she is famous! The paparazzi (her parents) follow her every move, documenting with cameras. It’s exhausting being famous, but someone has to do it! She even gets to perform a big song at her grandfather’s birthday. When she messes it up, she’s worried she’s lost her audience forever, but it turns out that no one is as loyal as her fans who love her.

I’m always a big fan of books which are constructed so that the text says one thing, while the illustrations demonstrate something different. I think this not only gives readers something to giggle at, when noticing the juxtaposition between the two elements, but it also means kids can learn a new literary technique, and have reasons to keep poring over a book again and again.

In I Am Famous, written by American sisters Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie, this is exactly what we get. Told from the viewpoint of a little girl, Kiely, who is a self-proclaimed celebrity, we see her navigate the highs and lows of stardom. There are the pluses, like: ‘I have my own chef, driver, and housekeeper’ (who is her mother, unsurprisingly); and then there are the downsides, like the stalking paparazzi who ‘bother me when I’m dining’ (her parents are ready with cameras to capture each moment).

The sassy main character has just the right amount of vivaciousness without being overbearing, and her commentary is hilarious. Just try not to laugh, for instance, at Kiely’s initial belief that, after falling during a performance, she will ‘never work in this town again.’ The voice is fresh, modern, and kid-friendly, and both parents and children will find a lot to enjoy and identify with.

In particular, parents who feel they may have created a bit of a monster with all the attention they’ve lavished on their little ones over the years will likely identify with the mother and father in the book, who alternate between being proud of their daughter and a little worried about her diva-ish ways! The balance is just right in how this is shown in words and pictures throughout the book. If you and your family enjoyed characters like Eloise, Olivia, and Fancy Nancy, this could be a good addition to your bookcase.

On top of being a fun ride, the story also beautifully demonstrates the way in which families can love unconditionally, no matter whether a child is shining bright on the stage, or experiencing a low. The book is a good reminder that familial support can help children to stay true to themselves and become confident, resilient, optimistic humans. It also shows young readers that no one is perfect, and that it’s enough to just try things and explore your passions.

The funky, colourful illustrations by Amsterdam-based Joanne Lew-Vriethoff are a perfect match for the text. Kiely’s personality and feelings really leap off the page with each spread and, while there is plenty of white space throughout, there are also plenty of details too, when it comes to facial expressions of other characters, the setting, and more. This will enable kids to pick up on additional layers with re-readings. The illustrations are energetic just like Kiely, and depict lots of movement. I also loved seeing such a diverse cast of characters depicted.

Fittingly, a follow-up book is also in the works. I Used to Be Famous is due in 2019 and, as you might imagine, will revolve around how Kiely must suddenly share the spotlight when a sibling arrives.

The story is recommended for children aged around four years and up.

Please note that a complimentary copy of the book was provided in exchange for an honest review.