Review: The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson

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.

Review: Georgia in Hawaii by Amy Novesky

georgia in hawaii

Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O’Keeffe Painted What She Pleased by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

In 1939, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company commissioned two painting by Georgia O’Keeffe.  This picture book is the story of her trip to Hawaii funded by the company.  O’Keeffe spent time on each of the Hawaiian islands.  Her first stop was Oahu where she saw pineapples in the fields.  She wanted to spend time close to the plants as they grew, but the company did not approve.  They gave her a pineapple that had been picked, but that was not the same for O’Keeffe.  She next went to Maui where she spent time near a rainforest and waterfalls.  She painted what she wanted, when she wanted.  On the island of Hawaii, she saw volcanoes, rare red coral and lots of flowers. Finally, she went to Kauai and visited with the local artists as the air was filled with the scent of burning sugar.  But when she returned to the mainland, she didn’t have a single picture of a pineapple.  The company was upset, and so was O’Keeffe, who hated being told what to paint.  So how could they resolve this?

Novesky brings the Hawaiian island to lush life in this picture book.  Her words tell of the beauty and diversity of the islands.  They also show how the islands impacted the work of Georgia O’Keeffe.  The story is told on a level that children will enjoy, giving examples of what inspired O’Keefe to paint and what did not.  It is a strong story about how creativity and inspiration work.

Morales’ art is so lovely.  As she says in her illustrator’s note at the end of the book, she took inspiration for the illustrations not only from the twenty paintings that O’Keeffe created in Hawaii, but also from works throughout O’Keeffe’s lifetime.  The illustrations have something that I can’t put into words.  It’s a kinship or a closeness with the original work. 

This is a gorgeous and striking picture book about a dynamic, one-of-a-kind artist.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.