The defining feature of any book from Flying Eye Books is that they are made to be treasured, none more so than Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey. The disposable, fleeting nature of modern consumption, with products devoured on the hoof and slung thoughtlessly in the trash, is countered the moment you hold Davey’s book in your hands. Like art, it is something to be gazed upon; something to be absorbed and assimilated in the mind and the soul, not grabbed, ripped at and stuffed in the gullet.
Davey’s illustrations are something else; they deserve a wide audience and much acclaim. I first discovered his work when drawn to the cover of the wonderful Knight Night, a delightful picture book, perfect for fearless four year olds who love to swish a sword and battle to the death, or at least until a toe is stubbed, the tears flow and a cuddle is needed. It’s full of stylised images often using a palette based around one bold colour (orange dominates in Knight Night, next to browns and muted yellows).
That distinctive style appears again in Smart About Sharks, with use of grey-blues and sandy-browns to bring an underwater world to life. With this, comes splashes of pink – not muted like a crab, but bold and brave, catching the eye and mouthing ‘pick me up, hold me, read me’.
The genius of Smart About Sharks is how all the conventions of a non-fiction text are applied – there’s a contents page, a flow chart, captions and diagrams – and married with illustrations that would work just as well in one of those chunky, pricey books designed to sit upon coffee tables. The knowledge is there – here is a man who knows his sharks – but so is the beauty. Reading the book fills you with facts, but the images stir the imagination and reach the soul in a way that only genuine art can.
A sumptuous book – buy it, read it, treasure it.