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*The Shark in the Dark* by Peter Bently, illustrated by Ben Cort
The Shark in the Dark
by Peter Bently, illustrated by Ben Cort
Ages 4-8 32 pages Macmillan Children's Books July 2008 Hardcover    

Danger! Danger! If you are a fish, a crab, or a turtle, you don’t want to share the dark with a shark that's out looking for a seafood snack. But if you are a fish, a crab, or a turtle, and you do find yourself in the dark with a hungry shark, leave as quickly as you can - swim to the nearest sunken ship and dart into the first opening you see. If you run into a squid, like the fish, crabs, and turtles do in this book, listen to what he has to say. He might know a good trick to scare away a shark, and with the shark gone, you can relax and enjoy exploring the bottom of the sea again.

Children will find Peter Bently’s story engaging. The author uses rhyme and alliteration when telling this underwater tale. He writes:
Down at the bottom of the deep, dark sea,
Something is stirring and it wants its tea.

As the fish see the shark, they all start to panic, and the mackerel say:
“Oh help!” moaned the mackerel.
“”The Shark’s on his way!
We don’t want to be in his belly today!”
The author’s use of repetition and bold text announce the arrival of the shark:
Watch out, little fishes, watch out for the Shark!
Watch out for the great hungry
Shark in the Dark!
This story, which has a fun, fast rhythm when read aloud, also contains a rich vocabulary. The fish are “flustered and bumbling,” the shark is looking for the “fishiest” snack, and near the end of the book, something even bigger than the shark is feeling “peckish” as it swims through the water and meets the shark.

Illustrator Ben Cort uses darker colors to reflect the serious mood of being a sea creature in danger- but only until the second to last page. On the last pages of the book, the fish and crabs and turtles are all brightly colored and swimming around in a sunnier blue sea. They are happy now, and they all look toward the squid with smiles on their faces. The danger is gone, and the mood turns cheerful – a welcome change, because before children even open the book, they see the shark peeking at them through the jagged shape of the die-cut on the cover.

The illustrator incorporates these sharp edges into several illustrations in the story. The hole in the ship, the edges of the anchor, the shark’s teeth, and the broken window on the squid’s boat are all drawn with spiky, pointy edges as seen on the die-cut. This adds danger to the setting and helps develop the mood under the water.

It’s easy to empathize with all the characters that appear in this book - yes, even the sometimes villainous shark that lurks in the dark. The fleeing sea creatures are drawn with wide eyes and quivering lips when they are scared. Readers will want to see them get away from the shark – they will definitely be rooting for the fish! But when it’s the shark’s turn to be chased, readers might feel differently about the shark. He can get scared, too, cowering in a shadow and biting his fins. I think by the end of this story, children will be relieved no one was hurt, and happy to see that the fish and crabs and turtles win back their homes.

The Shark in the Dark can segue into many teaching opportunities. After reading this humorous book, parents could talk to their children about marine life (including why fish travel in schools), teamwork, and even water safety. However you use the book, though, when you read this story aloud, all eyes and ears will be on you (well, except for the shark fanatics, whose eyes will be glued to the shark the whole time).

The author of the children’s picture book A Lark in the Ark, Peter Bently studied languages at Oxford. The Shark in the Dark was inspired by his time living close to the sea. He lives in Totnes, England, with his family.

Ben Cort went to Harrow College to study illustration. The illustrator of the children’s picture books Colour Me, Happy!, Muddle Jungle, and Aliens Love Underpants, he lives in Bedfordshire, England, with his family.

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