Swim, Shark, Swim! & The Voyage of Whale and Calf


Swim, Shark, Swim! by Dom Conlon & Anastasia Izlesou

The Voyage of Whale and Calf by Vanessa Pirotta, illustrated by Samantha Metcalfe

(CSIRO Publishing)

Book Reviews by Joy in Books at PaperbarkWords blog


Swim, Shark, Swim! by Dom Conlon & Anastasia Izlesou

It is the perfect time of year to read a picture book about sharks. Swim, Shark, Swim! was originally published in the United Kingdom by British creators. CSIRO have now published an Australian edition.

This is a literary work that follows Shark, a blacktip reef shark, around the oceans of the world. It is a fabricated journey because one shark could not complete this feat but the book’s purpose is to expose children to different ocean environments and a range of sharks and marine creatures.

We meet and farewell Shark off the west coast of Australia and, finally, on the Great Barrier Reef. Shark traverses the Pacific, Indian and North and South Atlantic Oceans and encounters tiger, hammerhead, and great white sharks; octopus, squid, bottle nose dolphins, green sea turtles and manta rays.

Author Dom Conlon is a double Carnegie-nominated poet. His language is lyrical. The book begins:

“Blue sun in sunken skies

the sea sharpens to the shape of Shark …

With black tips on his fins

and the space between stars in his eyes

ask – where is he going,

ask – what does he want?”

The author uses a repeated refrain device to transport Shark to each new place: “so he opens a tunnel of bubbles and light and swim, Shark, SWIM!”

Anastasia Izlesou’s illustrations confidently enhance the underwater worlds and her slightly comic-style characterisations of the creatures make the book more accessible for younger children.

Spread from Swim, Shark, Swim! by Dom Conlon, illus Anastasia Izlesou

The publisher recommends Swim, Shark, Swim! for 5-to 8-year-olds.

Teacher notes by Mike McRae are interesting and worthwhile. They include two experiments that look scientifically valuable and great fun.

Swim, Shark, Swim! at CSIRO Publishing


The Voyage of Whale and Calf by Vanessa Pirotta, illustrated by Samantha Metcalfe

CSIRO have also recently published a book about whales.

The Voyage of Whale and Calf is an Australian production. It is a more straight-forward work than Swim, Shark, Swim! Avoiding fanciful elements, it follows the life cycle and migration of a humpback whale sequentially.

It is beautifully written by debut picture book author, Vanessa Pirotta, who is a wildlife scientist and science communicator.

“It is midnight. The humpback whale swims alone.

She’s about to birth her first baby.

Beneath her, moonlight glimmers on coral.

Protected in the shallows of the reef, she waits.”

Words that may be unfamiliar are bolded and explained in the glossary.

The information is well-told and interesting. When Calf is born, for example, he swims in the slipstream of Whale, called “echelon swimming”. Dangers faced during migration include boats, balloons, nets and killer whales.

Samantha Metcalfe is a natural history illustrator. Her pictures sensitively reflect the limpidity of life underwater and wisely avoid explicit portrayal of trauma and death. The publisher recommends this book for children aged 6-9 years.

Spread from The voyage of Whale and Calf by Vanessa Pirotta, illustrated by Samantha Metcalfe

The Voyage of Whale and Calf at CSIRO Publishing

Both Swim, Shark, Swim! and The Voyage of Whale and Calf are useful additions to book collections about marine creatures. The Voyage of Whale and Calf will have particular value for young Australian readers.

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