I have loved cartoons all my life. In school I was a miserably slow reader and hated the books we were forced to read. The joy of reading arrived every Wednesday when new magazines came on the stands. I would rush to the store after school, buy a stack of comics and spend blissful hours buried in delightful whimsy. So needless to say I’ve been a fan of Candlewick’s Toon series of books for quite some time. These stories are written for emerging readers by veteran children’s book authors, renowned cartoonists, as well as new authors.
Now Toon Books have come out with a Hawaiian folktale, The Shark King, by R. Kikuo Johnson, which delighted me from tip to toe with its freshness. It is a wonderfully odd story about a shape-shifting shark king that falls in love with a young woman, marries her and fathers a son, Nanaue. The Shark King is compelled to return to the sea to protect Nanaue and the story is by turns poignant, dramatic and funny as the little half shark, half human boy tries to fit in.
The colorful, fun graphic cartoon style just screams, “read me!” Each page is filled with movement, energy and bold color as the central characters zip from ocean views, to tidal pools, to tropical forests. The scenes alternate between several smaller panels and a number of stunning double page spreads. It’s a visual thrill. The book is also divided into three chapters, which makes the rather mature themes of longing for father, fitting in, and understanding your true nature easier to manage.
Although this story feels very different in style from the selkie stories, the underlying themes are similar so a thoughtful child might have fun comparing and contrasting this story with stories such as The Seal Children by Jackie Morris, The Selkie Girl by Susan Cooper and The Seal Mother by Mordecai Gerstein.