The Shark King
R. Kikuo Johnson (Night Fisher) returns to comics with this Hawaiian folktale for kids from Toon Books.
Although the art takes full advantage of the island setting, the story is one familiar to any fan of legends. The Shark King, who can take human form, encounters a beautiful woman. They fall in love, marry, and have a child. The father leaves to return to the sea, but the child has his unusual abilities. So long as they live apart, the mother and child are happy in their remote home, surrounded by nature and feeding on the fish in the sea, but soon enough other humans discover them. The child is thought to be a monster, so he must return to his father, restoring the usual order of things.
It’s the images that will stay with me, especially their lovely pastel shades. They make a quiet, natural island life seem like the perfect escape. Bright lemon day skies turn into calm, blue-grey nights. Both the land’s vegetation and the sea’s creatures are brightly colored, showing the munificence of both environments.
The messages are subtle and should be discussed with young readers. The child comes close to destroying the human village because he doesn’t understand sharing or wise management of resources. His selfishness and what it means isn’t explicitly addressed in the story, requiring thoughtful evaluation to realize his effect on others. The father/son relationship means that the wife/mother is left alone, which may be concerning. There’s a lack of explanation of what finally happens to some of the main characters, with them disappearing from the book to an assumed existence elsewhere, which readers might need guidance to envision.
There’s a lot to unpack here, which makes this recommended for grades 2-3, according to the book’s reading scale. They should enjoy the imaginative characters and setting and like the idea of being a secret, magical prince. (The publisher provided a review copy.)