How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel by Jess Keating
This past summer I read Jess Keating's first book, How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied. I knew she was going to be at nErDcampMI and I love meeting authors, so I figured I'd give her first book a go. It blew me away. I loved her main character, Ana. She had such a true voice for middle school kids. Too often I find authors using preachy, sometimes philosophical voices, for their middle grade or high school characters. It's not how kids talk! I instantly loved Ana and her twin brother, Daz. The fact that they live inside a zoo, well, we all know what that can do for a kid in middle school, especially one who wants to be out of the spotlight! Ana is witty, kind, and someone you want to be friends with.
I was thrilled to see that Ana and friends would be returning to us in a new book. How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel celebrated its book birthday yesterday, Tues. Jan. 6. I had the privilege to read it ahead of time and get to fall in love with Ana all over again. I think this time, Ana will sneak into your heart a little more. You want to hold her hand and help her when she's in trouble, stick up for her when she needs it, and reassure her that boy trouble is really not all it's cracked up to be.
It was a pleasure talking to Jess at nErDcampMI and I've been fortunate enough to continue our nerdy conversations through Twitter. She was kind enough to talk to me a little more about Ana. As teachers, we look for those main characters that stick with us. Those characters that are hard for us to get out of our heads. Ana is one of those characters for me because I see myself as a middle schooler in her... I see kids I know in her... I see kids I don't know in her! Since I had some more questions for Ana, Jess agreed to kindly pass them along for me. Without further ado, here's Ana...
1. In your first book, you worked a lot with reptiles, especially crocodiles. This time you're with sharks and other marine life. You mention you really like the reptiles. What makes you feel more at home with the reptiles?
I think it's because I've lived with Daz my whole life, and he's pretty much a giant reptile himself. And because of that, there are a million snakes and lizards in our house. I grew up with boa constrictors watching me eat my Frosted Flakes every morning, and skinks wandering over my homework every night. They feel like family to me. You know, just extra-scaly family.
I'm starting to get the hang of it with sharks, though. I can't say the same for that stupid scuba suit.
2. Ana is usually either at home (well, in the zoo) or at school, which means you're either spending time with animals or people. What is the difference between the animals at the zoo and the kids at school?
Animals are much easier to understand! I mean, sure, they can't talk like we can, so it's really hard for an armadillo to wander up to me and tell me what's going on in his life. But I've also never met an armadillo that giggled when I got chicken parm all over myself, or sneered at me in the hallway because they thought I looked like a weirdo in my new skirt.
I can get most animals to be nice by offering them a handful of food. I wish I could say the same for people. (Except Daz—but as you already know, he's not human.)
3. In this book, we see you having to spend time with your arch-nemesis, Ashley. What makes you different from Ashley?
Let me count the ways! For starters, Ashley always has great hair, and usually for me to have great hair, there needs to be some mega-celestial-stars-aligning situation going on. Not to mention a load of hairspray, which just ends up making it feel all crunchy and weird.
Ashley is also super confident, and always walks around like she's being protected by some sort of popularity force field that protects her from embarrassing moments. You know when you lean over the drink fountain for some water and end up splashing yourself in the face because you went too low? I've never seen Ashley do that. What kind of android is she?!
4. If you could pick a job for Ashley to have to do at the zoo, what would it be? How about for Daz?
I would pay three weeks allowance to see Ashley shovel out the elephant pen. Can you imagine the look on her face?! As for Daz, I think he needs to get in touch with his softer side instead of all the insect-crunching reptile stuff. I'd send him to play with the angora rabbits.
5. Last question! What is harder: being nice to Ashley or trying to figure out how to deal with your feelings for Kevin?
Sometimes I think that this whole puberty thing makes everything hard. Should I not say that word? Because it's totally gross, I know. But really. When I was little, my mom used to make this dessert that looked like worms in dirt, but the dirt stuff was actually cookie crumbs and the worms were gummy worms. The whole thing was good! But it was sort of scary taking that first bite, because you didn't know what to expect. That's how I feel being nice to Ashley. Maybe she'll be nice back and it will be as sweet as a cookie. Or maybe it will be just plain old dirt.
Kevin...well. I probably shouldn't talk about Kevin, because knowing him, he'll have some genius code thing set up on his computer so he gets pinged every time someone mentions his name on the internet. Kev, if you're reading this, can you give me the answer to last night's math homework? Pleeaaase?
A huge thank you to Ana and Jess for stopping by!
Find How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel at your local bookstore or library. Fall into Ana'a world again!