Sharky Marky and the Big Race by Lance Olsen Book Review

An "Under the Sea" Children's Book Series

When I sent out an offer to write a review of my friend’s book I don’t think this is what he had in mind.  As a matter of fact I’m sure it isn’t.  I could have written a glowing report with mushy stuff to make you fall in love with the Sharky Marky series, but you’ll do that anyway ... he’s cool!  That’s why it won an award.  So I thought, why regurgitate what others are saying? 

After looking at tons of reviews, articles and information on Sharky, I wanted my critique to be different from the others as this book merited, bringing it to another platform – the classroom.  

Therefore, my take on the series isn’t cookie cutter clean.  I want to light a fire under all my author friend(s) for stepping into areas beyond thoughts, and into the bigger plan of God while we run our own race here on earth. 

“For as the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9 NKJV) 

‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a (good) future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV) 

With that in mind here it is Lance, prickly pears and sugar cubes, but no sour grapes!   

Favored Review:
Sharky Marky and the Big Race 

Price Details
I’m not a stranger when it comes to loving children’s books.  You might think that sounds funny coming from a person who doesn’t have any children, but my infatuation actually began in college.  

Part of my required curriculum in the educational track was to take courses in Children’s Literature.  Let me share this, they were some of the best classes I took throughout all my years of higher learning training, so my review is primarily geared toward an instructional tool for the classroom. Please note this when reading the following. 

While taking Children’s Lit I had to read, review and write children’s materials for the classroom.  It was in these courses that I learned about the prestigious awards for outstanding books targeted toward the little ones.  Caldecott Medal, Newberry Medal, Michael L. Printz Award, Children’s Choice Award, Edgar Award, Golden Kite Award and many more were among the categories I researched. 

Why am I mentioning awards?  Sharky Marky books are among those that I believe will make many awards lists one day as being favorites for the classroom and among young readers.  My review is an honest one, and although the author didn’t write the series for the classroom I don’t want it to be overlooked for future consideration.   

Teacher to Teacher 

Even though I haven’t written materials along the fiction line, I’ve been writing children’s stories since I was a teenager and keep an eye out for “special” books that are set apart or different from the ordinary story. The visual aspect of teaching children is so important especially in reading, and the more things we can match up to each experience the better retention of the lesson. 

As a teacher of the handicapped (and visually impaired) I tend to be more critical of children’s books, by looking for certain things that stand out in various areas where most books don’t.  I look at overall layout, placement of objects or text, color/contrast, size (of text and book), texture and visual appeal.  Sharky Marky books have great promise in those areas. 

In the Sharky Marky and the Big Race story, along with the rhyming aspect the reader will be introduced to colors, numbers, and sight words as in the Dolch lists from primary to middle school levels.  A tool we are familiar with in teaching elementary grades and one that we try to match reading materials with spelling/vocabulary lessons. 

The picture book is designed with simple basics as in colors and objects, where in it doesn’t look cluttered or overwhelming having too much on the page.  This is important because often times the visuals become more important than the text or lesson trying to be taught.  We are very aware of each item (creature, car, background, etc.) without the added “details” (such as headlights on the vehicles) that aren’t needed to convey the storyline. 

The page layout is “clean”, meaning the colors even though bright, are flat allowing the text not to be lost on the page.  With the light blue background against the brown lettering, it is easy to see and read.  This is something important for visually challenged students, and not what most think of when designing their books. 

Notice the large size of the book.
Author signing for parent.
The size of the book (28 pages at 11W” x 8.6L”) is one that can be easily used in a share book reading circle, with the illustrations being large enough for everyone to see in a small group. 

Another point that works well when introducing children to new words is to match the word with the object.  In the book when a word is rhymed it is in line with what the character is doing, thus helping reinforce the scene.  Visual and written pairs are very good tools for brain activity when learning something new. 

Making the Book Work 

When I first saw this children’s book what jumped out was the bold plump-like creatures.  Smack in the middle of the uncluttered cover is our fun, loving life character, that isn’t afraid of taking on challenges.  As soon as you open the book you meet the cast of sea animals that take part in the big race. 

Getting into the race with Sharky Marky is Karl the killer whale, Horace the sea horse, Stuckey the starfish (one of my favorites) along with nine other characters. 
We first meet our cast at the gas pump and not long into the story we’re introduced to the nice and the nasty side of the event.  After all how can there be a moral to the story without a few meanies in the plot. 

Rolling through the story the underwater sea racers encounter adventure, mystery, fear, challenges and team spirit (which some don’t take to that well).  Along the way each driver is given an opportunity to be kind, do the right thing, and show compassion to their competitors.  

Like in real life, not all the participants follow the golden rule.  Young readers can gain wisdom from Sharky Marky in that although obstacles may get in our way along the road, we can still win if we stay in the race. 

Points to Consider for Educational Purposes 

I'm about to get a into the nitty gritty of the book.  Contrary to what you may think with me listing the following concerns, I believe in this series and how it could be used in the classroom.  There are some issues to deal with, but I feel they can be handled correctly by the instructor or parent for home schooling. 

This isn’t a series that should be left on the shelf as just a fun book about sea creatures.  It can be much more with a bit of creativity on the instructor’s part.  I see potential that can be molded and turned into pre-primers and first books (but I have to convince Lance first) not only for reading, but for other avenues of education as well. 

If you are merely looking for a children’s book to entertain your child you will love the Sharky Marky line of work.  On the other hand, there are a few things to take into consideration if you want to add this to your classroom reading list (which I think you should). 

1 - Text size: The text size could be a little larger, which can easily be done in a large print edition.   

2 - Numbers: With each page the reader is encouraged to say a number.  It is good to have engagement or interaction when reading, but I’m not sure if that is what the author intended or concept the reader would grasp. However, it would be a good thing to do to during story time, and what fun … it’s already in the script. 

To reinforce the number along with the story, large flashcards could be used which would be a terrific idea anyway.  A follow-up listening skills lesson could be a worksheet that included the numbers and some of the rhyming sight words.  Be sure that you use words that don’t rhyme also. 

3 - The Helmet: Sharky is the only one racing with a helmet.  Safety is a biggie when it comes to our kids, and children aren’t shy in pointing out details. Headgear safety far outweighs anything else while on the track. Be prepared for them to ask about the missing helmets on the other race car drivers.

Nascar is bold in their statement: “A driver’s first line of defense in preventing head injuries, including concussions is the use of a helmet.” 
Even though our buddies are underwater, it could be a point of discussion since everything they encounter with their vehicles also happens above water.  Don’t shy away from this, deal with it in a positive way.
4 - Phrasing.  Not all kids will understand some of the phrases like “fly right by” and may take it literally expecting to see the car fly in the illustration.  Of course this will also coincide with the ages of the children.  As with any book be sure to ask questions if you feel the child doesn’t understand a phrase or word meaning. 

5 - Vocabulary Usage/Levels. Some of the dialog falls into upper levels of learning when it comes to the vocabulary; however I’m not as concerned with that. Every time a book is introduced to a child at the first stages of learning it will present some type of challenge, so take this into consideration and go with it.  The goal is to expand their learning, not to keep it stagnant. 

6 - Unresolved Issues. What happened to Diego’s car that was left on the track? Is that a potential accident waiting to happen?  On the positive side, this would be a great time for critical thinking exercises having the children give possible solutions to the situation or what they thought happened.  

7 - Follow-up with Free Resources.  The author has been generous in supplying free coloring pages on the Sharky Marky website.  Adding to the fun are the many suggestions he has provided on Sharky's Facebook page. 


Take a look at the photo section for creative ideas in crafts, recipes, behind the scenes photos, cool sketches by the illustrator, funky costumes and all around clean fun for kids ... and adults! 

Now down to the book rating. I have never done a split review before but this book warrants it. Here is how I've come to my decision. 

Favored Rating on the Book 

Dear Teacher … 4 stars  ★★★★

There are some things that we need to consider selecting this as a classroom or library book, but overall, it’s a winner. 

The main point of being an instructor (at any level), is to encourage learning in many ways using what is available and safe for the learner.  Your students are going to read this book somewhere, so why not let it be through your classroom?

“Encouragement builds confidence and is the fuel that keeps us going.”
 – Lance Olsen


Dear Parent … 5 stars ★★★★★

Sharky Marky and the Big Race wins again with a five star mark!  The concept is exceptional and inspired.  When have you heard of such an idea? (Leave Disney out of this …)
Plus you have to admit the plushy Sharky Marky character toy is so cute and cuddly. 

If you are looking for colorful, quirky characters, unusual storylines, fun books with some educational aspects to it, then you can stop reading here because the Sharky Marky books are all that they set out to be.  The reviews are great and kids love Sharky!  So do I for that matter (although I haven’t gotten my stuffy yet). 

Parents … coming soon my review on Sharky Marky and the Scavenger Hunt: An Alphabetic Adventure. Even more fun to come with our new sea friend Sharky! 

Maybe there weren’t that many prickly pears after all, huh Lance? 

“Therefore comfort each other and edify one another,
just as you also are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 NKJV)

Sharky Marky and the Big Race by Lance Olsen

Award winning book. Hardcover or Kindle edition available.
Illustrated by Thomas Perry 
Ages 3-6+

Look for more Sharky Marky books by Lance Olsen:
Sharky Marky and the Scavenger Hunt: An Alphabetic Adventure (2015)
Sharky Marky and the Supermarket Sweep (coming in 2017). 

To learn more about this talented author contact Lance 

Other places to look for award winning children’s books: 

Newbery Medal
Caldecott Honor Book
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book
New York Times Bestseller
New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book
NPR Best Book
Kirkus Reviews Best Book
Wall Street Journal Best Book
Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
Horn Book Best Book
BookPage’s First Must-Read Picture Book”
The Huffington Post Best Overall Picture Book
Boston Globe Best Book
Chicago Public Library Best Book
New York Public Library’s 100 Books for Reading & Sharing List
Miami Herald Best Children’s Book
Raleigh News & Observer Children’s Book
Atlanta Parent Best Book
San Francisco Chronicle Holiday Gift Guide Pick
Scholastic Instructor 50 Best Summer Book
ALSC Summer Reading List
Horn Book Summer Reading List Pick
School Library Journal’s Top 10 Latin Books List
Kansas City Star Roundup Pick
Kids' Indie Pick
E.B. White Read Aloud Award
Washington Children’s Choice Picture Book Award
Kentucky Bluegrass Award
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Publishers Weekly
School Library Journal
Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award
Junior Library Guild Selection
Pura Belpré Award
Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature “Best Multicultural Books Pick

More picture book reviews:
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Content and Image Copyright from Favored1. Do not copy.
Scripture reference was taken from the New King James Bible Version provided by Gateway Bible.

Image:  Lance Olsen used with permission.  No compensation was paid for the review.
Disclaimer Notes: Review is that of site author Favored1 and may not necessarily be that of the book author.
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Labels: Book Review, Children’s Books, Educational Toys, Favored Reviews, Favored1, Free Coloring Pages, Indie Authors, Lance Olsen, Ocean Life, Picture Books, Sharky Marky, Teacher Resources, Under the Sea Books on Animals