By R. Kikuo Johnson
Available now from Toon Books (Candlewick)
Candlewick's Toon Books line is extremely cool. They're easy-to-read comics made by artists who normally write for adults. It's a great way to introduce little kids to some great art. Plus, I think the comic format makes them even easier for beginning readers, because the pictures provide even more context than a standard picture book.
I love R. Kikuo Johnson's art and he does a great job with THE SHARK KING. The colors are bold but not overwhelming. The images are simple and clean. There's a nice mix of definite and indefinite panels, allowing the action to move smoothly. And I love the way Johnson draws expressions! Some of protagonist Nanaue's more mischievous looks remind me of my nephew.
THE SHARK KING is an adaptation of a traditional Hawaiian folktale. Kalei has a child with the Shark King, who has to return to the ocean after their son is born. Nanaue grows to be a quick, clever boy who steals fish from the fisherman to keep his belly full. But as much as he loves his mother, he also misses his father.
It's a sweet, simple story. It's a bit of a bittersweet ending, but nothing that would upset children. It's probably to simple to hold the attention of older kids although they might enjoy Johnson's art.