The Shark King, a Toon Book by R. Kikuo Johnson

The Shark King, a Toon Book by R. Kikuo Johnson (April, 2012, 40 pages), is an easy reader graphic novel that's multicultural, intellectually interesting, and emotionally engaging, which is just about the swellest combination of descriptive phrases I can imagine combining (and the pictures are nice too!).

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.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

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