This straightforward retelling of a traditional Hawaiian tale is done by a native of Hawaii. This “Level 3” book is intended for advanced beginner readers and should provide a successful experience for these readers. The myth of the shape-shifter deity who falls in love with a mortal woman and leaves her with their child, and that child’s experiences among other mortals, is treated with respect and unfolds effortlessly using all of the basic comic book elements: dynamic and varied panels, realistic dialogue, caption boxes, and the use of warm colors. Illustrations are created with soft charming lines, conveying energy. Characters are immediately recognizable and the setting is lush and filled with color. The tale is sprinkled with a pronunciation guide and identification of the aquatic creatures, adding to the understanding of young readers without interference with the story being told.

Following the essence of a folktale, the story is told in three chapters. The first chapter introduces the two adult characters and the woman’s belated discovery of the god’s true identity. The second chapter focuses on their child, Nanaue, who was born laughing. He definitely takes after his non-human father, in that he has snapping jaws on his back. His mother attempts to hide his peculiarities from the people to no avail. Nanaue is mischievous, ravenous, and curious about his heritage. The chapter ends with Nanaue discovering, for the first time, a village. His experiences in the village are told in the third and final chapter. Because of his presence, hunger and deeds, the villagers no longer have any food from the sea. Upon discovery, Nanaue is immediately labelled a monster and escapes to safety, thanks to the forethought of his father and the love of his mother.

While not being moralizing, this retelling reflects a subtext of bullying and self-discovery. Highly recommended.

The Shark King
by R. Kikuo Johnson
ISBN: 9781935179160
Toon, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: 7-8

  • Gail

    | She/Her Professor, Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta


    In addition to teaching at the School of Library and Information Studies (University of Alberta) where she is an adjunct professor, Gail tells stories and conducts workshops on a wide variety of topics across Canada and the United States. Each year she teaches the following courses for the University of Alberta. All of her courses are delivered online: Storytelling, Comic Books and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries, Canadian Children’s Literature for School and Public Libraries and Young Adult Literature. She also teaches a course on Indigenous Literature for the ATEP program (Aboriginal Teacher Education Program) at the University of Alberta. Gail is the award-winning author of nine books on storytelling and folklore in popular culture.

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