March 15, 2018


Misunderstood Shark. By Ame Dyckman. Illustrated by Scott Magoon. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $17.99.

The Bad Guys #6: Alien vs. Bad Guys. By Aaron Blabey. Scholastic. $5.99.

     Toothsome and terrifying, sharks have been a major object of fear for people ever since – well, at least since the Steven Spielberg movie Jaws (1975) brought them to the attention of people who had previously never thought much about what might be underwater near a beach. In reality, sharks have been a source of worry and fear for much longer, but only among people unfortunate enough to come in contact with them and live to tell the tale. And yet human-shark encounters really are quite rare, and as nature-focused organizations constantly point out, the chance of dying in a shark attack is far, far lower than the chance of all sorts of alternative forms of mayhem (a true statement that is somehow not especially reassuring). Anyway, the upshot of all the shark fear in the last several decades has been a series of books, both factual and fictional, intended to show that sharks are not so bad after all. They are simply misunderstood. As in Ame Dyckman’s Misunderstood Shark. This is all about a TV show called “Underwater World with Bob” (Bob being a jellyfish), specifically about an episode into which a gigantic and extremely toothy shark suddenly intrudes. Shark is about to swallow a fish when Bob tells him he is on camera and should not eat anyone while people can see – and Shark, with a sly grin that plays toothily to the audience (although he still holds the frightened little fish in a fin bearing an anchor tattoo with the word “Mom”), says he did not intend to eat the fish. He just wanted to show off his new tooth. So Shark holds the fish right over his wide-open mouth, with the fish understandably asking, “Can I faint now?” Meanwhile, Bob uses the moment to give the audience a “fun fact” about sharks: they can grow and lose some 30,000 teeth in a lifetime. And so the show and the book progress: Shark starts doing typical hungry-shark things, claims he did not intend to do them and is simply misunderstood, and pulls back from his impulses long enough for Dyckman to have Bob deliver several honest-to-goodness facts about sharks. Scott Magoon’s highly amusing, very cartoonish illustrations make Shark seem both fierce and funny, but his smiles are always on the heh-heh-heh side of things – something that Bob himself eventually finds out when Shark’s instincts get the better of him just after Bob agrees to give him a hug. But no worries! Bob promises to be back for his next show with a real “INSIDE view of our underwater world!” Nothing to fear here, folks – nothing at all. Or at least not much.

     Another shark, sometimes known as Shark and sometimes as Mr. Shark, is merely one of a heroic quintet of bad guys trying to become good guys in Aaron Blabey’s ongoing series of simple and hilarious graphic novels, The Bad Guys. Shark is the disguise expert of the group, but his disguises are ridiculous, absurd, and would not fool anyone; so of course Blabey has them fool everybody, maybe even the alien who is the real bad guy in the sixth book of the sequence, Alien vs. Bad Guys. In addition to Shark, the Bad Guys include Wolf, their leader; Piranha; Snake; and Legs, a tarantula. And all of them are really up against it, the “it” being a gigantic many-tentacled thing with lots and lots of teeth and lots and lots of butts (or butt-like pieces of anatomy that appear at the end of the tentacles and are just great for squeezing and picking up stuff, such as Bad Guys). Anyway, the alien used to be a tiny megalomaniacal guinea pig named Marmalade – that was in earlier books of the series – but now that disguise is unnecessary, since the alien has learned all it needs to know about the weakness of Earth’s defenses and its own ability to, you know, take over the planet and all that. Nothing stands in its way except the Bad Guys, who are not doing so well because they happen to be standing in a room filled with dried alien snot. That is, all are there but one: Snake, who has never bought into the idea of the Good Guys Club and has gotten out while the getting out is good. Actually it isn’t good, but out is better than in with the alien, if you get Snake’s drift. So he drifts away – or, actually, powers away in an escape pod, leaving everyone else behind in an alien spaceship on the moon, where this whole book takes place. Is there any hope for Earth? Any hope for the Bad Guys and their Good Guys Club? Of course there is! If there were no hope, how could there be another book? But there will be another, set in the age of dinosaurs because, well, why not? For now, kids will have to be content laughing their, um, butts off at Alien vs. Bad Guys, while they wait for the forthcoming Do-You-Think-He-Saurus?

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