Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson

Johnson combines and retells the legends of the Shark King for young readers in the newest graphic novel easy reader from Toon Books.

A young woman named Kalei goes down to a deserted spot on the beach to search for opihi...and narrowly escapes a huge shark when a strange man rescues her. They fall in love and are married and shortly before Kalei's baby, Nanaue, is born she realizes the truth - it is the Shark King himself who saved her! Nanaue is always hungry and has a strange mark on his back...which turns into snapping shark jaws! He steals food from the villagers until they learn his secret and he flees, discovering the place his father made for him and his father. They leave a gift for Kalei and she knows her Shark Kings are always with her.

The story is strange enough (or will be to my small-town Midwest patrons) to intrigue while the other has removed some of the violence and weirder elements of the original tales and smoothed the whole into a seamless plot. There's certainly still a creepy element to the story, which will delight young readers who like a little shiver in their story.

My favorite part of this book is the illustrations, bold and colorful, with sharp lines and a great font that fits perfectly with the design of the story and is still super-easy to read. Kalei's reactions to her husband and son are hilarious, especially in the spread with Nanaue's first steps - Kalei moves rapidly from delighted mother "you're walking!" to horrified resignation when Nanaue devours every speck of the huge heaps of food and asks for more "you're talking!" a few simple lines and shifts in body language will make parents snicker. Even though their kids aren't half-shark deities that devour everything in sight they can certainly sympathize with Nanaue's insatiable appetite and rapid growth! Pronunciation and explanations of unfamiliar terms and names are integrated into the story.

Verdict: Johnson perfectly hits the spot with this new title and I'm hopeful of more Toon Books from this author. This will be a hit with kids who like larger-than-life stories, a little bit of creepiness, and funny moments. Toon Books has had some very good titles since they began, but this is the first one I feel really measures up to the groundbreaking Stinky by Eleanor Davis. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781935179160; Published April 2012 by Toon Books (Candlewick); Review copy provided by publisher; Purchased for the library

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