Monday, May 7, 2012

The Shark King

Booklist starred (March 15, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 14))

Grades 2-4. This new entry in the TOON line of emerging-reader comics may be the most sophisticated yet, spinning a variation on Hawaiian folktales about the shape-shifter shark god, Kamohoalii, and his son, Nanaue. After a young woman is rescued from drowning by a handsome stranger, they fall in love and have a son. Before the boy is born, though, the man reveals his true self by flaring gills, sprouting fins, and diving back into the sea—but not before leaving a cape and a cryptic utterance to be remembered by. The boy grows up, eating everything in sight and pranking the local fisherfolk to no end. His mischievousness goes a bit too far one day, though, and the villagers chase him off a cliff, right into the fate his father prepared for him. 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. Although simple enough to keep brand-new and below-level readers in tow—and strengthen their vocabulary with contextual clues—this charming and playful Hawaiian fable will reveal deeper layers to more intuitive readers.

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