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The Shark King: TOON Level 3 Hardcover – April 10, 2012
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Johnson’s beautiful, graphic style recalls, of all things, Gilbert Hernandez’ early Palomar comics, with zippy figures set against equatorial backgrounds distinguished by a few key features—a waterfall and fruit tree here, a tidal pool and coral reef there. The crafty panel layouts plunge into a couple of full-bleed splash pages with all the exhilaration of a high dive. While simple enough to keep brand-new and below-level readers in tow—and strengthen their vocabulary with contextual clues—this charming, high-energy Hawaiian fable will reveal deeper layers to more intuitive readers.
—Booklist (starred review)
Sharks, superpowers, and the comic-panel format will initially lure in readers, but the subtext of bullying, parental separation, and self-discovery will stay with them long afterward. The characters’ rounded black outlines convey strong energy and emotion, while the panels and spreads feature a lush, colorful Hawaiian setting.
—The Horn Book (starred review)
This graphic novel, which works either as a read-aloud or as a step toward chapter books for young readers, offers a story especially appealing to boys who long to be just like Dad.
—The New York Times
About the Author
Kikuo spent his childhood exploring the rocky shore in front of his grandmother’s house at low tide and diving with his older brother. Since moving to the mainland, Kikuo has discovered the joys of swimming in fresh water and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he enjoys cooking, playing his ukulele, and riding his bike all over the city.
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Top Customer Reviews
I was unfamiliar with the myth of Nanaue before reading THE SHARK KING. After reading the book, I did some research and discovered that Johnson portrays Nanaue in a much more favorable light in THE SHARK KING than according to the Hawaiian myths (in the original stories, Nanaue develops a taste for human flesh and kills people and is eventually captured and killed himself). This version of the myth works for a graphic novel geared towards young children. Instead of being a creature to be feared and hunted, in THE SHARK KING Nanaue is portrayed as a playful and mischievous child who the reader comes to emphasize with.
The art in THE SHARK KING is graceful and seeped in Hawaiian influence. The illustrations aren't overly cartoonish, nor or they too realistic.
I really enjoyed THE SHARK KING. It was a story I was unfamiliar with and has given me a desire to search out other Hawaiian myths. Perhaps Johnson will bring other Hawaiian myths to life in future works.
It's the story of Kalei, a girl in long ago Hawaii, who all unwittingly marries the Shark King, a shape-shifting deity. On the night before their child is born, her husband returns to the sea, leaving her to raise the boy alone. But Nanaue is no ordinary child. His inherited enough of his father's shape shifting magic so as to appear monstrous at times (jaws snapping from his back!), and his appetite is insatiable. So much so that the fisher folk of the nearby village grow hungry....and when they realize Nanaue is to blame, they try to hunt him down.
But the father Nanaue longed to meet is waiting for him, and so all ends well. Except that poor Kalei is left alone, which I found sad (in as much as I automatically relate, quite naturally, to the mother. I would be very sad if my boys dove off into the sea and I never saw them again, and the handful of shells Kalei gets as a memento would not be much comfort. Young readers doubtless won't have this particular issue).
The story is simple enough so that the young reader can read it independently, and enjoy it as an adventure story, but complex enough, with it's themes of finding one's true self, parent/child relationships, and being different, that the young mind will be fed on a deeper level. As a bonus feature, there's a little guide at the end on how to read comics with kids.
I'd have loved another bonus feature giving more information about the original myth, but that's my only complaint.