Saturday, December 22, 2012

XOC, Ancient Mayan Word and Awesome Non-fiction Graphic Novel

Did you know that XOC is the ancient Mayan word for shark? This is one of the facts I learned in XOC: The Journey of a Great White (Matt Dembicki, ONI Press, 2012) an awesome graphic novel written by Matt Dembicki and should be seriously considered for home, school or classroom use for kids of all ages.

More specifically:
"XOC (pronounced "shock") is an ancient Mayan word for demon fish (though there are other translations) and likely the origin of the English word shark. The story behind how it entered the English language is rather interesting. Capt. John Hawkins was said to have brought a carcass of a beast that killed some of his crew while they were pirating off the coast of Mexico. He heard some of the local people call it "xoc" and he apparently brought that term back to the Old World with him. The specimen was exhibited in London in 1569...according to, a broadsheet post about the fish read:

"There is no proper name for it that I knowe but that sertayne men of Captayne Haukinses doth call it a sharke. And it is to bee seene in London, at the Red Lyon, in Fletestreete."

This alone hooked me in terms of the book's value.  This one page peeked my interest in pirates (and their indirect influence on our modern culture), Captain John Hawkins, Old English, and the origin of "shark." But, read on my friends, because this gem of a graphic novel goes even further.

Xoc Page 3Xoc is about nature, conservation,  and the story of a female great white shark's voyage to give birth to her pup as told through a combination of 3rd-person narrative and dialogue between seals (about to be hunted), a sea turtle, and Xoc. But this book is more than that:
  • It is an outstanding resource of vocabulary (with words such as ferocious, piques, impending, denizens, turbulent, bravado, venture, euphoria, lieage, deftly, satiated, intrigued, exuberance, and silhouettes- for example).
  • Dembicki uses alliteration ("this pack of predators...the broadtooth behemoth...the pennipeds (seals)  panic...a cold current hints at impeding change... ), personification ("the blue titan basks in the warm sun...")  and other literary devices to capture our minds and imaginations.
  • It is a tremendous resource when learning about :
    • Xoc Page 4
    •  sharks and their prey
    • shark migration and the spawning female
    • the underwater perils sharks face (orcas, starvation, exhaustion, storms disorienting sea creatures, parasites, pollution and debris of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch)
    • how the sun and Earth's magnetic field help the shark navigate and keep her course
    • life at the bottom, light-less depths of the ocean off the continental shelf
    • how dolphins and hammerhead shark feed and their relation to the great white
Xoc Page 1In terms of the story, it begins off "the Farallon Islands--some 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco--[which] tend to serve a generous breakfast menu. it is a favorite haunt of this pack of predators [who] arrive with ferocious appetites." As  readers continue we see the sharks' hunting tactics in action. Once (temporarily sated) Xoc's journey continues to Maui where she spawns her pup. Along the way we read about the natural and man-made challenges she must face and maneuver around. We see how pollution, boats, orcas, and storms all  effect her travels and how all under-sea creatures must learn to survive. The art, graphics, panel placements and language are all used to create real tension throughout the tale.

While there is an ending to Xoc's story (which I don't want to spoil), Dembicki provides the reader with other additional resources:
  • Author's note - providing additional information about the "Great pacific Garbage Patch" and pollution's effect on the ocean and its inhabitants;
  •  "Did You Know?" with fascinating facts to whet anyone's appetite for more;
  • More information on sharks and conservation links; and a
  • Bibliography worth further exploration
As the teaching suggestions are fairly obvious (and teaching points were noted above when discussing the resources this book offers), I have decided to spend the rest of this post with additional links worth exploring further:

For more information about the book and to read a short story about Xoc's pup, readers should visit

For more information about XOC and great white sharks visit:
For more information (and extraordinary links) about the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" readers should visit:
Maybe another new year's resolution might be to make our kids more award of ecological and environmental issues and/or deciding as families and communities to make greater efforts towards minimizing our carbon footprints and polluting agents.

I thank you for your visit and wish all of you a wonderful 2013 - may it bring you and your families joy, peace, good health and success.  I look forward to you comments now and future visits.


  1. I am an introverted, bookish, loves-NPR-and-PBS kind of person who also thinks Great White Sharks are my totem animal. I love them. They make me feel scared and exhilarated and humbled and greedy to watch them. They are the closest thing to dragons (for me) in this real world.

  2. brilliant. I need this. right now. I'm sure my 9 year old son also offers his thanks...

  3. OK, you may be the winner of the not eX-, not Xmas, not related to wood or yellow ABC Wednesday sweepstakes!
    and way cool to boot
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  4. It is a good resolution to adopt! Thanks for the info and share!

  5. I couldn't agree more! Even in wrapping the gifts this year, I am happy to say that much of it was from stuff of years past. And that cast off blue prints make the best wrapping paper. The garbage floating around in the Pacific (and much of it ends up on the southern point fo the big island of Hawaii) is so very, very disturbing.
    But, I do hope you had a great holiday with your family!

  6. Thanks for sharing,hope you having a great holiday :)

  7. Fascinating information, as always. Have a happy New Year!

    ♥ aquariann
    Featured Photo: Christmas Mantel

  8. Another wonderfully informative post and so 'in' ~ ^_^

    Happy New Year ^_^ (A Creative Harbor) aka artmusedog and CArol ^_^

  9. Great idea for resolution!


    Happy Holidays!
    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

  10. Gee, I could have used that book when I was in the classroom teaching ocean habitats! Hope you had an eXcellent Xmas!

    abcw team

  11. I love all things with sharks, especially since I consider myself to be somewhat of a shark activist and definitely an advocate of cleaner oceans. Without the balance of the ecosystem, our ecosystem will eventually go haywire and we all will die. It's so important to keep our oceans clean and the creatures within safe. I am going to buy this book for my son as he loves sharks like me :)

    Thank you, Mahalo so much for linking up to the Aloha Friday Blog Hop last week. I am following you back by the way. :)

    If you have time, we'd love to have you come and link up to the Aloha Friday Blog Hop if you haven't already! We are hosting a great giveaway too which is a wonderful opportunity to give some extra exposure to you lovely blog. Come and link up, enter the giveaway (if you haven't yet) and celebrate the coming weekend with us!


    Jean {What Jean Likes}

  12. Hi, Great post. I found you through the blog hop. Now following you.Please stop by and say hi when you get a chance.
    Be sure and check out my new Blog Hop that we just started, It's Weekly Goals Link Up. It's a great way to stay on track. Have a great day. :) Here's the link in case you want to check it out. Thanks again.