Finalist for the 2015 USA Best Book Awards in Children's Fiction
Finalist for the Foreword Reviews' 2014 IndieFab Awards in Juvenile Fiction
“Like author Rick Riordan, who mixes adventure with Greek myths, [Prager] writes books that include action and humor, science and sea creatures.” The Washington Post, KidsPost section
"...the sea life, along with reefs, bioluminescence and other marine wonders, is generally depicted by Prager, a marine scientist, in accurate, vivid detail. ...there’s more than enough action and humor to pull readers along. ...a splashy startup with a promising premise." Kirkus Reviews
"Ellen Prager takes her readers on an exciting, action-packed adventure into the mysterious world of the deep, with an edge of fantasy that only the most vivid imagination could conjure up. A rollicking ride of fun, that also imparts to her young readers a valuable education about the marine world, and the fascinating creatures that live in and around it." Sam Champion, host of Sea Rescue, Weather Editor ABC NEWS
"Here's one book that as a father and an ocean lover I can wholeheartedly recommend. Take the adventure, dive in, and happy reading!" Bob Woodruff, ABC News correspondent
"The Shark Whisperer, Dr. Ellen Prager’s first middle grade book, followed by her second, The Shark Rider are part of the Tristan Hunt and Sea Guardians series. The ocean adventure series follows Tristan and his friends as they arrive at summer camp, where they develop unusual, but exciting ocean powers. ... This fun series is written by oceanographer and researcher, Dr. Ellen Prager who is passionate about ocean science, and hopes to educate middle graders about current ocean issues, as well as encourage young readers to get involved in the preservation of ocean life. The series meets the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Science. A free downloadable Educator’s Guide with language arts and science activities is available."Current: The Journal of Marine Education, Vol. 29, No. 2, June 2015
"No need to whisper: I very much like, like, like this highly readable, highly unusual way of looking at the ocean.” Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and host of PBS Saving the Ocean
"The Shark Whisperer is packed with science laced with humor and adventurean underwater Harry Potter, sure to inspire readers to want to dive in and experience the ocean for themselves." Sylvia A. Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence
"A wonderful read that grips you from the very beginning. This empowering story of a group of young people who band together to save the oceans and change the world is a terrific adventure; funny, exciting, and entertaining...don't miss it." Philippe Cousteau, Explorer and Environmental Advocate
"Those who know Prager well wouldn’t be astounded to find her delving into the realm of ocean science and youth fiction. Throughout her career, Prager always made it a priority to involve young minds." Miami Herald
"As the first book of author and researcher Ellen Prager’s Tristan Hunt and the Sea Guardians series, The Shark Whisperer appeals to middle school readers with a combination of humor, adventure, and fantasy that is sure to spark curiosity among young minds about real-world ocean issues. ... The Tristan Hunt and the Sea Guardians series with illustrations by Antonio Javier Caparo is sure to be of interest to various marine educational programs and young fantasy and adventure fiction readers. Author Dr. Ellen Prager’s expertise in marine science and ocean advocacy brings the series to life with vivid and accurate descriptions of marine species and the threats they face, woven among plenty of action and humor." Mission Blue
After his most klutzy move ever, falling into a pool of sharks, things for Tristan Hunt begin to look up. Tristan is invited to an ocean-themed summer camp in the Florida Keys where he discovers that he and the other young teens there have very special and rare talents when it comes to the ocean. After the camp receives a distress call from ocean animals, Tristan and his new friends get pulled into a daring rescue in the Bahamas. With the help of sharks, dolphins, a quick-escape artist octopus, and some seabird bombers, the campers must use their young talents in an attempt to outwit an evil shark-finning, reef-blasting billionaire.
Gr 5–8—The Sea Guardians are human teens with special abilities in the water. Tristan Hunt is a klutz on land—a fact that readers are never allowed to forget—but a natural in the sea. He's a fast swimmer and he can communicate with sharks. The latter trait has brought him to the attention of a group of adults who, with government funding, run a marine-life research center and help protect the oceans from those who would do them harm. The plot strains credulity. Someone is finning sharks (cutting off the fins, then tossing the sharks back into the ocean) for the black market and looking for a sunken treasure near the Bahamas. When a group of older teens go on a fact-finding mission and are caught, it somehow falls to the newest and youngest recruits to help save them. But each character—from the adults running the research center, to the teen protagonists, to the villain—are stereotypes without depth. The author incorporate facts about sea life, but they often interfere with the narrative flow. The sharks near the Bahamas have distinct Bahamian accents and speech patterns. Most tweens will find this title lacking.—Marie Drucker, Malverne Public Library, NY
With help from an array of friendly wildlife, a band of summer campers stages a rescue and stymies a ruthless harvester of shark fins in this series opener. Twelve-year-old Tristan joins other newbie Seasquirts invited to a sea park in the Florida Keys and is delighted to discover not only that he can talk to sharks, but his new camp mates are endowed with similarly unusual abilities. These range from porpoiselike echolocation to hagfish-style "mucus deployment skills." These are all quickly put to the test when a trio of older camp teens is captured by a gang of "finners" in the Bahamas. The hastily planned rescue features a massive poop attack from flocks of birds, a bit of lock picking by an intrepid octopus and exhausting treks over land and sea to evade thugs on jet skis. Though sometimes a little too human—sharks talk to Tristan in West Indies accents: "Mon, we no want to eat your bony butt!"—the sea life, along with reefs, bioluminescence and other marine wonders, is generally depicted by Prager, a marine scientist, in accurate, vivid detail. The story's color and energy fade in the wrap-up chapter, which is largely explication, but overall, there's more than enough action and humor to pull readers along. Some may feel that the climactic eco-revenge is carried a bit far, but it's a splashy startup with a promising premise. (maps) (Adventure. 10-12)
Read an Excerpt
A sudden unnatural hush fell over the crowd. All eyes were fixed on the pool below. It was their worst of nightmares come to life. After all, evil unblinking eyes, blood, and hundreds of sharp teeth make for a very, very bad dream.
“A boy’s fallen in,” a young mother shouted, covering her daughter’s eyes. “Call 9-1-1! Do something! He’ll be eaten alive!”
The woman’s daughter, who had been calm before, now tore from her mother’s grasp. She ran from the scene screaming, her arms waiving wildly and rushed straight into a mob going in the opposite direction. People were running to the pool, a dark curiosity drawing them like flies to road kill. The commotion even attracted the local seagulls. About fifty flocked to the site. Their loud high-pitched squawking and a barrage of bird poop bombs added to the chaos.
“Tristan! Tristan!” the boy’s father called out. He squeezed his arm through the railing of the raised walkway around the pool. But even with his arm extended all the way through and his face mashed against the metal, he was still far from being able to reach his twelve-year old son.
The boy’s mother stared at the scene with an expression that was oddly calm and strangely, she was silent. Normally she was a nonstop talker, the Niagara Falls of words. She was clearly in shock. Her mind, body, and especially her mouth were paralyzed by what she saw.
“The sharks. They’re coming!” another man yelled, pointing to three large dorsal fins slicing through the water with deadly efficiency. They were headed straight for the boy.
At first, twelve-year old Tristan Hunt did not know what had happened or where he was. One minute he was leaning over the pool’s railing to get a better look at the sharks swimming below. The next thing he knew, he was in the water. When he landed it actually felt pretty good; a refreshing splash in cool water to escape the scorching south Florida heat. Then, just moments later, Tristan realized where he was and that he was not alone in the water. He swam to the surrounding concrete wall; it was slick and smooth. There was no ladder, no steps or anything he could grab onto. That’s when he saw the first fin.
Tall and lanky, Tristan’s limbs seemed to grow faster than the rest of his body could keep up with. He was constantly tripping over the smallest things and often his own feet. The kids at school made fun of him. At home, his older sister teased him relentlessly with names like the gangly green giant or trippin’ Tristan. But this was the king of all trips, the crown jewels of slips, the champion of stumbles. He’d fallen into a pool of sharks.
Tristan had seen enough movies and television to know he could never outswim even one shark. He’d seen at least five before falling in.
Nearby, a couple of pierced, tattooed teenagers watched, rapt by morbid fascination. One leaned over to the other snickering, “He’s a goner for sure.”
A twenty-two-year-old aquarium worker with more enthusiasm than brains ran to the shark pool with a long pole that he extended out into the water. “Boy,” he shouted. “Grab it! Come on. Grab hold!”
Tristan looked at the pole, and more importantly, at the dagger-sharp hook at its end. He thought, Is this guy nuts? I’m not a fish. No way am I grabbing that hook. There’ll be bloodsharks and blood, duhcan you say feeding frenzy?
Something bumped Tristan from behind, shoving him forward. He jerked around and saw the pointy tip of a shark’s tail swish in an s-shape as it swam past. He then saw two more sharks coming his way, their fins slicing silently through the water and toward him. The pole, even with its flesh-tearing hook, was looking a lot more appealing. He reached out to grab it, stretching his arm as far as it could possibly go. Just a few more inches and he’d be rescued, pulled uneaten from the pool.
But before Tristan could grab hold of the pole, a sharp blow to his back again plunged him forward. He turned and saw a shark circling around. Tristan backpedaled as best he could in the water. The shark was coming at him fast. He closed his eyes, not wanting to see its toothy grin up close and personal.
The shark’s snout touched Tristan’s stomach and he thought: I hope I taste really bad, like that disgusting cauliflower casserole mom made the other night. Then the shark did something totally unexpected. Instead of tearing through his flesh, it sort of nuzzled himlike a dog sideling up for a good scratch.
Tristan opened his eyes. There was the shark, curled up next to him. Without thinking, he reached out to feel it. His mother always told him to think before he speaks. He could just hear her saying, Tristan, think before you reach.
But it just seemed like the thing to do. He gave the shark’s skin a little scratch. It responded with a playful swish of its tail, swimming off. Then he looked at his hand, because he still had a hand. He looked at his stomach. There were no teeth marks.
Onlookers at the aquarium’s shark pool were now jumping up and down, covering their eyes. His mother fainted and his father was frantic. “No! Tristan!” he screamed. “Son, grab the pole. Grab it!”
As the next shark came toward him, Tristan ducked underwater to watch it approach. It turned just before reaching him. Its glassy eye stared directly at him, but not in an evil or hungry sort of way. It almost seemed like the shark was trying to tell him something. Without thinking, Tristan kicked slowly in beat with its swishing tail. Soon they were gliding side-by-side. He became lost in the moment, forgetting where he was or the danger he was in.
The crowd above couldn’t grasp what they were seeing. Someone yelled, “It’s chasing him!”
By now a group of the aquarium’s more senior staff had gathered at a ladder that went down into the pool about twenty yards from where Tristan had fallen in. An older man, with a creased, weather-lined face and long, muscular arms, climbed down the ladder. He leaned out over the pool and just as Tristan swam by, grabbed him by the leg.
Startled, Tristan panicked, trying to twist away from whatever had hold of him. He shouted, “Get off me.” But in the churning water it sounded more like he was calling for help, something more like “Geb me.”
The worker quickly pulled the boy in. He then half-carried, half-dragged Tristan up through a small door in the railing that surrounded the shark pool. The crowd clapped and cheered madly. Even the seagulls seemed pleased. They stopped screeching and landed quietly nearby. His parents ran to their wet son. Tristan’s shaggy brown hair was a tangled mess. Water dripped from his straight narrow nose and his good blue polo shirt was ripped in two places. But otherwise it looked like he could have just climbed out of the neighborhood pool. There was no crying, no screaming, and no running for his mommy as the spectators surely expected. In fact, oddly, Tristan was smiling and there was a twinkle of excitement in his exceptionally bright green eyes.
* * *
Tristan and his parents spent what seemed like hours at the Sarasota Aquarium, explaining what had happened. The boy had simply slipped and fallen into the shark pool. How could anyone possibly think otherwise?
After a while, Tristan’s father threw up his hands. “Why are we still talking about this? You’d have to be bonkers to jump into a pool of sharks! And my son is not crazy, definitely clumsy, sometimes smart-mouthedbut not crazy. It was an accident.”
The aquarium director was a thin sixty-something man with short graying hair. His white, button-down shirt and khaki pants were extremely well pressed and heavily starched. Tristan stared at the man, thinking his clothes were so stiff they could have stood up on their own. The man ran his hand through his well-gelled hair, causing sections to stick out at odd angles. He addressed Tristan’s father, “We have an excellent safety record here. Nothing like this has ever happened.”
Looking sternly at Tristan, he continued, “Are you sure young man that you did not jump over the railing to take a little swim?”
“Oh for god’s sake,” Tristan’s father said. “I don’t have time for this. We are leaving.”
By the time they got home, Tristan just wanted to go to his room. But his mother’s silence-inducing shock had clearly worn off. “Tristan, you didn’t jump- right? But, why didn’t you grab the pole? You could have been killed. Those were sharks. How did you fall in? You have got to be more careful. So, why didn’t you grab the pole?”
“Mom, did you see the hook on the end?” Tristan said calmly. “There would have been blood and ya knowsharks and blood.”
“But you would have been pulled out sooner. You didn’t jump in, did you?”
“No mom. I did not jump in.” But even as Tristan was saying it, he wasn’t so sure. He remembered stepping up onto the lower bar of the railing and leaning over to get a better look at the sharks. Strands from his brown mop-like hair had fallen over his eyes, so he’d flicked his head back. And then he was in the water. It had happened very fast. He must have slipped, but the railing was kind of high. No way he would have jumped. Would he?
Tristan’s father shook his head, looking sternly at his son. Tristan could see the disappointment in his eyes, as usual. Just another check on the long list of reasons why he would never be the son his father so badly wantedthe star athlete and A-student.
“Tristan, go take a shower and put on some dry clothes. We’ll talk more about this later,” he quietly told his son.
Tristan headed for his bedroom thinking there was nothing more to talk about. They’d never believe the shark seemed to invite him along for a swim or that just before he got pulled out it looked right at him. Tristan got the feeling the shark was trying to tell him something, something important. Then he shook his head. Naah, it was a shark and I was just lucky.
* * *
Dry and in a pair of black board shorts, Tristan searched through the Mount Everest of clothes on his bedroom floor for his favorite T-shirt. It was the red, ratty one his mother hated. It had small holes along the seams at the shoulders. As he pulled one shirt after another off the floor, he got an odd feeling. Something seemed off in his room. He glanced around, but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. He checked his laptop. There was nothing creepy or weird on the screen. He looked over at the open doors to his closet and under the bed. No nighttime slashers there or boy-eating one-eyed monsters hiding out. There were a few birds sitting on the tree branch just outside his window, but that wasn’t all that unusual. Although from a distance they did seem much bigger and fatter than the birds he usually saw there, like sparrows on steroids. They almost looked like seagulls. And then he glanced at the small aquarium sitting on the table next to his desk.
The tropical fish were usually swimming back and forth, hiding in the fake seaweed, or nipping at the cheesy replica of a treasure chest on the gravel bottom. Now they were all huddled at the front wall of the tank, peering directly at him. Tristan was so startled he stumbled over his desk chair, which was not so unusual or surprising. On the floor he sat up, flicked back the strands of hair that were continually falling over his eyes, and looked up at the aquarium. The fish were still clustered and still watching him. They were now angled so steeply to see him they were doing floating headstands in the water. He shook his head, thinking he was seeing things. But when he got up and moved toward the tank, the fish moved with him. He shuffled to the right. The fish swam to the right. He took a step left. They swam left. The fish in his aquarium were tracking his every move and looking at him as if they were really looking at him.
“Okay, now I’ve lost it,” he said out loud, wondering if there was such a thing as Post Shark Trauma Syndrome. Or maybe he hit his head and had a concussion. He heard that people get confused with concussions. Maybe they also have hallucinationswacko sea creature hallucinations to be exact.
The fish then swam to the bottom right-hand corner of the aquarium, staring at a pamphlet sitting on the table’s edge. It was a brochure that had come in the morning’s mail about a summer camp in the Florida Keys. Tristan grabbed the brochure, staring at the logo on the front. It was a shark curled beneath a wave.
From the kitchen the smell of dinner wafted into Tristan’s bedroom making his stomach growl. He grabbed the pamphlet and headed for the door; really hoping they were not having fish for dinner. He took one last look at the aquarium. All the fish were now swimming about like normal, completely unaware of him. Maybe I imagined the entire thing . . .