Neighborhood Sharks

Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands

Written and illustrated by Katherine Roy

Every September the great white sharks return to San Francisco. While their 800,000 human neighbors dine on steak, salad, and sandwiches, the white sharks hunt for their favorite meal…

We both fear and admire great white sharks’ fierce hunting skills. But how exactly do they track down their prey? Award-winning author-illustrator Katherine Roy’s Neighborhood Sharks dives into their hunting grounds in the Farallon Islands, just 30 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge. Based on the latest information and abounding with fascinating glimpses into a great white’s life and habits, Neighborhood Sharks will astound young shark fans and their parents alike.

Roaring Brook / David Macaulay Studio, September 30, 2014. Age Level: 7 and up.

Order the Hardback From

Barnes & Noble Amazon Powell’s Indie Bound

Get the Core Curriculum Guide! Download Guide


  • With vivid paintings and clear, accessible text, Roy creates a heart-stopping look at what great white sharks do best—hunt for their next meal.
    —2015 Sibert Committee (Robert F. Sibert Honor Book)
  • If autumn brings visions of bountiful harvests to land bound humans, it brings the promise of an elephant seal feast to great white sharks that migrate to the coastal islands near San Francisco each September. Roy explores how this region became a popular dining venue for sharks, considering such factors as the seasonal arrival of young seals packed with a fifty-percent body mass of tasty blubber; the physiological attributes that make sharks apex predators; and the ocean current and weather pat- terns that draw the krill, that draw the seals, that draw the sharks. She also discusses how the sharks, in turn, draw the scientists, who use this annual opportunity to study the elusive predators, luring them with decoy seals made of carpeting and tagging them with ultrasonic transmitters. Roy supplies the watercolor illustrations, which are a successful melding of gory hunting scenes and effective diagrams. A closing note offers more information about the protected Farallon Islands and her own experience at sea with a scientific team. A short list of adult sources and a handful of more child-friendly multimedia resources are also included. EB

    —The Bulletin
  • It's a feeding frenzy every fall off San Francisco, according to this necessarily gory kid magnet.
    —SF Chronicle Holiday Gift Guide
  • ...The book is called “Neighborhood Sharks” for a reason. When we think of big predators we think of remote locations. We don’t think of them swimming along, so very close to places like the Golden Gate Bridge. Plenty of adults would be horrified by the notion that they might run into an unexpected shark somewhere. Kids, however, might see the prospect as exciting.Neighborhood Sharks has the potential to both satisfy those kids that have already read every single book on sharks in their local library and also convert those that haven’t already made sharks their favorite predator of all time. Remarkably beautiful even (or especially) in the face of straightforward shark attacks, this is a book that sets itself apart from the pack. If you read only one children’s shark book in all your livelong days, read this one. Disgusting. Delicious. Delightful.
    —Betsy Bird, School Library Journal (excerpt)
  • With so many sharks of the tech-boom variety circling San Francisco these days, it's easy to look past the great whites that return to the city's shores every fall, hunting incessantly for prey. Roy's appropriately amped-up narration scrutinizes every part of the shark's killing-optimized boy, then roams the central California coast, exploring the ecosystem in which they top the food chain. Some brave scientists make a cameo, luring the sharks to the surface to photograph and tag them. The book's watercolor illustration jump out with a fierce beauty; there's plenty of blood in the water, of course.
    —The New York Times Book Review
  • Drama and intrigue infuse Roy’s study of migrating great white sharks. Each year, the sharks return to San Francisco: “While their 800,000 human neighbors dine on steak, salad, and sandwiches, the white sharks hunt for their favorite meal.” With violence and wild beauty, one of Roy’s sharks attacks a local elephant seal, sending forth a bubbling gush of blood. Elsewhere, Roy playfully compares the characteristics of a shark’s body to those of a jet plane, and cutaway images display a shark’s internal anatomy. Roy’s reverence for her subject is evident in her majestic underwater scenes, while light humor and rich content round out a standout resource for shark enthusiasts. 
    —Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
  • When I signed up to do this review as part of a trifecta with Mr. Schu and Nerdy Book Club, I thought that I would just write a few words about the cool stuff I learned in the book and call it a day. Then I read Neighborhood Sharks. It quickly shot to the top of my list of my favorite 2014 nonfiction titles. Katherine Roy’s magically paced book filled breathtaking illustrations just might change the way that I look at nonfiction.
    —Colby Sharp
  • Neighborhood Sharks is the best book I've ever read about sharks. Fascinating and original!
    —Mr. Schu
  • This engaging narrative describes the annual white shark migration to San Francisco’s Farallon Islands, where these skilled predators come to gorge on the abundant seal and sea lion population. Detailed descriptions and watercolor illustrations graphically portray the physical and geographic elements that come into alignment to support this top-down food-chain cycle. The author effectively mixes extensive research and hands-on experience to explain how sharks hunt their prey, while scientists follow the sharks, seeking opportunities to take blood and tissue samples and to implant electronic-tracking tags. Scientific facts and concepts mesh smoothly with sequential action scenes, making the content accessible and logical. It is difficult to talk about sharks and their feeding habits without a bit of gore, and the illustrations, though not overly sensational, do not disappoint. Numerous shark-themed informational books have been published in recent years, and this unique treatment deserves a spot on most library shelves. Researchers, browsers, and teachers will welcome this authoritative work on interdependent ecosystems, a recurring theme in national science standards.
    —Booklist Review
  • Look closely at the cover of this impressive account of great white sharks off the Northern California coast: that bright red in the illustration is blood trailing from a chunk of freshly killed immature elephant seal—and a signal that Roy’s book will fully examine the sometimes chilling, always fascinating details of what makes this animal a predator. The dramatic main narrative describes a shark swimming and hunting, while well-integrated information-rich sections tell more about the biology and ecology of these sharks and about the scientists who study their role in the Farallon Island ecosystem. The explanations are thorough, even, and informative and benefit from excellent analogies (in both text and illustration) to elucidate such topics as sharks’ streamlined bodies and visual acuity. Roy’s illustrations masterfully employ color and perspective: blood-reds flow through the blues and grays of the sometimes calm, sometimes roiling ocean. Don’t skip the endnotes, which include behind-the-scenes information on Roy and the research she conducted for the book. 
    —The Horn Book (starred review)
  • Every fall, great white sharks return to feed on the seals and sea lions that migrate to the Farallon Islands just off the San Francisco coast, providing an opportunity for scientific study. Combining informative text with expressive paintings, done in ink, pencil, watercolor and gouache, Roy explains how these apex predators function. The endpapers set the stage, looking out toward the distant islands through the Golden Gate Bridge in front and back at the California shoreline from high over the islands at the end. In an early series of stunning paintings, the shark's meal is revealed in three spreads before the wordless fourth shows the strike; the water swirls, and the seal is captured in the shark's toothy mouth. Bloody water surrounds the shark in the next picture. Subsequent pages explain why the seal is a perfect meal and highlight the shark's streamlined body, warmed blood, superior vision, endless teeth, and projectile jaws that contribute to its success as a hunter. For this debut picture book, the author joined researchers who tag and follow these sharks, and she's distilled their findings in a way that's sure to attract young readers. The backmatter provides further information, sources and suggested reading. Full of the eww factor, up-to-date facts and kid appeal, this splendid, gory introduction is not for the faint of heart! (Informational picture book. 7-10) 
    —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
  • In preparation for this well-researched book on great white sharks, Roy joined scientists in the Farallon Islands to study the animals near San Francisco. Though shark lovers of all ages will enjoy poring over the intense, vivid images, there’s a lot of information that older students will particularly appreciate. Readers will learn about many aspects of great whites—their anatomy, how they hunt, and their place in the ecosystem, as well as how scientists study them. The action-packed illustrations, rendered in watercolor and pencil with some digital work, are both accurate and captivating. Pair this one with Gail Gibbons’s Sharks (Holiday House, 1992) or Seymour Simon’s Incredible Sharks (Chronicle, 2003). Additional information in the form of films, books, and online resources are appended, including a link to a live webcam of the Farallon Islands. An excellent introduction. ✭ 
    —School Library Journal (starred review)
  • Great cover, right? There are a number of reasons to be excited about this particular book. I heard about it a year or so ago and have been anxiously awaiting its appearance ever since. This is the first book in the brand spanking new David Macaulay imprint at Macmillan. As the editors put it this is, “the most up-to-date book on sharks you will find.” Consider Ms. Roy a debut to watch. Gotta love that title too.
    —Betsy Bird, School Library Journal
  • Those looking to entice young readers into the nonfiction category have some captivating picture books to look forward to. Roaring Brook editor Simon Boughton discussed Katherine Roy’s Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands (September), a work whose subject matter and intense and vivid illustrations will easily draw in readers. These sharks return to the Farallon Islands, visible from the Golden Gate Bridge, every September. Though this area is closed off to the public, Roy was permitted to join the scientists who study the sharks, using the opportunity to incorporate current research on great whites into her book.
    —Mahnaz Dar, SLJ Blog


Giant Happy Book Deal News!

Not only is my debut book, NEIGHBORHOOD SHARKS, coming out this fall from Roaring Brook Press/David Macaulay Studio, but just last week Publisher’s Weekly announced that Roaring Brook will also be publishing both of my next two non-fiction books. The first will be on African elephants, and the secon
Continue Reading →

Illustrator Blog Tour!

Oh my goodness! I’m back on my blog! But what in the world have I been doing?!? In the last few months, Katherine Roy has: (TRUE/FALSE) Talked to hundreds of students about her drawings for The Expeditioners book series. (T/F) Watched several great white sharks swim around and under her while sittin
Continue Reading →

My Own Personal Shark Week

The Expeditioners proofs are fresh of the presses and my illustrations for Buried Beneath Us are in! So what, might you ask, am I up to right now? I’M PACKING FOR MY OWN PERSONAL SHARK WEEK, YO!! Tomorrow I am flying out to San Francisco, California to accompany TOPP‘s (Tagging of Pacifi
Continue Reading →

Star Island Shark Tournament

Hello blog from our new New York apartment! I’m so sorry for my absence the last couple of weeks, but I’ve been desperately working away on the last touches on EXPEDITIONERS as I simultaneously unpack into our place and transition into the next book project. It turns out that fitting a t
Continue Reading →

Scientific Research for NEIGHBORHOOD SHARKS

Click here for a complete list of sources for NEIGHBORHOOD SHARKS.


  • White Sharks Are the Largest Predatory Fish

    White sharks are the largest predatory fish in the ocean, with hydrodynamic bodies built for speeds of up to 25 miles an hour. They can grow up to 21 feet long, 8 feet wide, and weigh over 4,500 pounds, and their skin is covered in tiny scales called dermal denticles—"skin teeth” that cut through the water to help them nab their next meal.
  • White Sharks Have High-Definition Vision

    White sharks are visual predators, meaning they target their prey by using sight (not smell)! The presence of color receptors—called cones—combined with their daytime hunting habits suggest that they see in black and white and perhaps in limited greens and blues. This highly sensitive vision helps them pick out the shape of their prey floating above them at the water’s surface.
  • White Sharks Are Migratory

    Neighborhood sharks only spend a few months of the year at the Farallones, where they fatten up on seals from late August until late November. After nearly three decades of research and GPS tagging efforts, we now know the sharks spend the rest of their year either warming in Hawaii or playing it cool out at a spot nicknamed the White Shark Cafe.
  • White Sharks Are Warm-Blooded

    White sharks are warm-blooded compared to most other fish. Like giant tuna, their heart recirculates the heat generated by their ever-moving swimming muscles, pumping it toward their brains and eyes to help them think fast and see better in the chilly water. At the Farallones the white sharks need all the speed they can get—marine mammals move fast, especially when swimming with sharks!
  • Farallon White Sharks Dine On Pinniped Prey

    Farallon white sharks love eating sea lions and seals, but especially favor juvenile elephant seals thanks to their solitary swimming habits and nearly 50% body fat. When a shark does finally strike, the water turns a shocking fluorescent red thanks to the high-density of hemoglobin in the seal’s blood designed for deep sea diving.
  • White Sharks Have An Endless Supply Of Teeth

    A white shark’s scientific name is “Carcharodon carcharias,” which means “jagged tooth” for their razor-sharp smile. White sharks lose individual teeth all the time—one falls out at almost every meal—but thankfully there’s always a fresh supply of pearly whites ready and waiting. Like a razor-sharp conveyor belt, a white shark’s jaw hides at least five rows of replacement teeth that rotate forward, ensuring that Farallon sharks never miss out on grabbing the next bite.
  • Farallon White Sharks Have Names

    It might come as a surprise that Farallon scientists name neighborhood sharks, but with such a small population the individual animals quickly become familiar. “Sicklefin,” “Engine,” “Tom Johnson,” and “Scar Girl” are just a few of the regular sharks at the Islands, all of whom have been tagged with GPS tracking devices to give scientists a better idea of their migration routes and hunting habits.
  • White Sharks Are Long-Lived

    No one knows exactly how long white sharks live, but it takes at least 10-12 years for a white shark to reach adulthood, when their teeth widen as they transition from eating fish to eating marine mammal prey. Tom Johnson, a male white shark, was already fully grown when first sighted at the Farallones in 1987, and every fall that he returns he sets another longevity record. Since white sharks take so many years to mature and reproduce, their population numbers are easily threatened by overfishing. A brand new radiocarbon dating study on Atlantic white sharks suggests they may live for 70 years or more, making them even more vulnerable to human activities than was previously thought.
  • White Sharks Hunt By Sight, Not Smell

    Contrary to popular belief, white sharks do NOT hunt by smelling blood in the water. A substantial percentage of a white shark’s brain is dedicated to smell, but it may be used just as much for navigation and reproduction as it is for hunting prey. Scot Anderson, one of the Farallon scientists, pioneered the practice of luring white sharks to the surface with unscented seal-shaped carpet decoys and surfboards. This proved that white sharks rely on their vision instead of their nose in the final moments of a hunt.
  • Humans Are Not On A White Shark's Menu

    Compared to a high-calorie 400-pound juvenile elephant seal with almost 50% body fat, even the most obese human is a skinny snack for a hungry white. Unfortunately, since white sharks are visual predators, they hunt by striking seal-shaped items, like a seal-shaped carpet decoy or a surfboard, which can look like a seal when silhouetted by the sun. In the highly rare instances where a shark injures or kills a surfer it’s a case of mistaken identity—we humans are NOT on their menu.