Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson

While searching for her favorite food, opihi (oh-PEE-hay, a delicious sea snail), in a seaside pool, a young woman named Kalei has a run-in with a rogue wave and what appears to be a shark. An ominous black outline complete with jagged teeth is headed right at her as the wave knocks her off the rocks and into the sea. But instead of gnashing teeth, she is grabbed by two strong hands that pull her to safety. Stunned, she can barely utter a thank you as the rescuer warns her that the Shark King does not like visitors.

Kalei and her mysterious rescuer fall in love, marry, and soon a son is on the way. Shortly before the child is born, the husband goes swimming in the sea for hours When he returns, he announces, “I’m making a place for our son at the bottom of the pool.” At the bottom of the pool? Then, the night before the boy is born, he leaves completely, returning to the sea and revealing himself to be the Shark King.

Kalei is left to raise the boy, Nanaue (nah-NOW-way), on her own. But he is different from the other boys and villagers and must stay hidden. Eventually his secret is discovered when the villagers no longer catch any fish. Blaming Nanaue, the villagers chase him to the only place he can find safety - the pool - leaving Kalei alone.

The Shark King is one of Toon Books more difficult books, Level 3 on their Toon Into Reading scale for “Advanced Beginners.” Pronunciations like the ones in this review are included in the text. Readers will enjoy Nanaue’s antics that keep his mother busy, as any young boy's antics will. Readers will especially enjoy drawing conclusions about the mysterious Shark King and Nanaue. As with all graphic novels, the text is limited, leaving readers to use the images to understand the events. Should Nanaue wander farther and farther from home? Is Kalei truly left alone? Will Nanaue be safe in the pool?

The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson is another strong addition to the Toon Books library. But with Toon Books, that’s come to be expected with each new release.

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