shark king

The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson

Toon Books has mastered the art of graphic novels for early readers and this book adds to the depth of their offerings.  This story comes from Hawaii and this the tale of Nanaue.  He is the child of a normal mother and The Shark King.  His parents fell in love after his father rescued his mother from drowning.  When Nanaue was about to be born, his father left.  Nanaue was an unusual child, not only because he walked at such an early age, but because of a unique mark on his back that could open into a mouth and snap.  After meeting a boy and his father, a fisherman, Nanaue started to catch fish to eat.  He followed the fishermen to find food, eating so much that he drove them further away.  Nanaue was eventually discovered by the villagers and his mark was revealed.  They chased him all the way back home and even then he had to dive to safety in the sea.  The place that his father created just for him before he was born.

Johnson keeps this rather complicated story simple thanks to the use of the images to tell much of the story.  The snapping mouth on Nanaue’s back is shown rather than described, making it completely and immediately understandable.  The book moves quickly through the story, giving extra time to the beauty of the undersea world and the freedom that Nanaue finds there.

Done in panels that are ever changing in their design, the book has a sense of motion and speed.  Johnson manages to insert welcome humor into the dramatic tale without ever undermining the amazing tale he is telling.

A rich graphic novel for young readers, this book celebrates a little-known Hawaiian story.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Toon Books.