January 03, 2019
(++++) BLARP AND BEYOND
Misunderstood Shark #2: Friends Don’t Eat Friends. By Ame Dyckman. Illustrated by Scott Magoon. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $17.99.
Ame Dyckman and Scott Magoon tried very hard not to make the ending of the first Misunderstood Shark book too upsetting, since, after all, it was a picture book, likely to attract kids as young as six years old – who might well be scared by seeing a huge shark consume a hat-and-glasses-wearing jellyfish TV host who had just been explaining to underwater viewers that sharks aren’t really all that bad and are generally, as the book’s title said, misunderstood. So Dyckman and Magoon played the ending of Misunderstood Shark for laughs, so effectively that many young readers may not even have realized that if a shark (even a talking shark) really did eat a jellyfish (even one that was hosting a TV show), that would be, well, the end.
So that end becomes the beginning of the second Misunderstood Shark book, Friends Don’t Eat Friends. It is not necessary to have read the first book to figure out the second – Dyckman and Magoon give a written-and-illustrated recap on the inside front cover and the pages before this book’s story actually begins – but of course, kids who did read the previous book will find this continuation of the story more enjoyable. What happens here is that Bob, the jellyfish, has been unceremoniously ejected from Shark’s mouth with a loud “BLARP!” And Bob is not happy about what Shark did to him – which Shark denies doing to him. Shark, who is as starstruck about being on TV here as in the first book (his eyes actually show stars when he realizes the cameras are capturing what he is doing), insists that Bob misunderstood what happened: “I was just giving you a tour,” says Shark, showing a diagram of “Shark’s Place Restaurant & Lounge” with the anatomical features crossed out and replaced with words such as “Front door (welcome!).”
Bob, understandably, is unconvinced, even when Shark swears “on all the bones in my body” that he did not really eat Bob. And this is where Friends Don’t Eat Friends really gets interesting, because this book – like the previous one, but in a way even more tightly worked into the story – is filled with facts about sharks and other sea creatures, presented so easily and amusingly that kids will not even realize how much they are learning. Thus, in the case of swearing on Shark’s bones, Bob – reminded that he is supposed to be hosting his TV show – informs the audience that sharks do not have any bones at all: “Shark skeletons are made of cartilage!” And Bob’s crew members explain that cartilage is “the squishy stuff in a human nose.”
This does not stop Shark from insisting on his innocence and demanding that Bob prove that Shark ate him – which leads to a scene that gives Dyckman and Magoon the chance to explain (and show) what happens when a shark consumes something indigestible: “The shark expels his stomach out of his mouth, ejects the object, then sucks his stomach back into place!” The indigestible object is not Bob but Bob’s glasses, so now Shark complains that Bob was littering in his stomach. The misunderstandings (and obvious evasions) continue along these lines until Bob insists that, as the book’s title clearly says, “friends don’t eat friends!” So Shark races off in a huff, easily outpacing the TV crew trying to catch up to him, because “great white sharks can swim up to 35 miles per hour!” Bob and the others do find Shark, though, in his “Man(eater) Cave,” where he is soothing his feelings by eating tons of sugary foods that will not give him cavities because “shark teeth are coated in fluoride” and therefore “sharks don’t get cavities!” The constant mixture of silliness with interesting facts works very well as the story progresses, until Bob eventually apologizes for hurting Shark’s feelings and Shark, in turn – albeit reluctantly – apologizes for eating Bob, even temporarily. So all ends happily, with a promise on the inside back cover that the series will be back with another story that “you can really sink your teeth into” – and yes, that groaner of a pun wraps up the whole book. And very neatly, too, with no additional blarping required.