Thursday, April 26, 2018

Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi

When Pig's mother died, his father stayed around only long enough to teach him how to run the dam. Then he committed suicide by walking out into the fog and Pig became the dam keeper. He keeps the windmill running that keeps Sunrise Valley from being overcome by the toxic black fog outside its walls. His only friend is Fox, who insists on trying to make him befriend the local bully, Hippo. Pig is haunted by the tragedies in his life and the suspicion that he might be getting as crazy as his father. But then disaster strikes and Pig finds himself - and Fox and Hippo - stranded outside the walls with the toxic fog coming on. Can they work together to survive? Will Pig discover the truth about his father? Or is there more going on than meets the eye?

The art will strongly appeal to fans of Shaun Tan. Soft, earth colors are spread across the pages showing a small, plump pig with an air of aching grief, a cheery orange fox, and a clumsy, huge hippo who sometimes seems to be trying to make friends, but just can't communicate outside of hitting or yelling. The landscapes are haunted, with a looming horizon of black fog rising over the towering structures of the dam, a strange and frightening frog who could be alive or could be a zombie, and the constant company of Pig's father, a shadow that blows into ash whenever he looks too closely.

The story ends on a huge cliffhanger and I want to find out what comes next - but I admit that I'm skeptical about audience for this one. Reviews put it at the middle grade level, roughly ages 9-12, but this is an intense story with a lot of death, grief, and very dark moments. On the other hand, it has a child-like quality in the interactions of the three main characters that seem to point it at a younger audience. The publisher puts it at ages 7-11, but it would have to be a very special seven-year-old that I handed this to! It's based on the Oscar short of the same name and ultimately I'd say the audience is really adults - it's one of those books that isn't really directed at a specific audience, but a gatekeeper, parent or librarian, will know which children will appreciate it.

Verdict: Basically, I want to know what happens next and it's a beautiful book, but it's creepy and sad as all get out, you have been warned. I've had one kid read it have much the same reaction.

ISBN: 9781626724266; Published 2017 by First Second; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

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