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Review: The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson

The Shark King
By R. Kikuo Johnson

TOON Books (Candlewick Press)

ISBN: 9781935179160
Grades 1-3
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Schuler Books | Your Library

I feel like the 21st century has not been kind to myths and legends. There’s so much “meta”-this and “fractured”-that going on that these classic stories either get lost in the shuffle or twisted beyond recognition. Leave it to TOON Books to come out with a take on an old Hawaiian legend that retains the simplicity and character of the original story, yet feels completely fresh. An easy reader graphic novel that is at once unexpected and a welcome sight to see.

While out hunting for sea snails, Kalei is rescued by a stranger who turns out to be the Shark King, a man who can morph into any animal. The pair eventually marry and have a son, Nanaue. With a set of snapping jaws protruding from his back, it’s clear the Shark King genes definitely didn’t skip a generation. In danger with village fishermen for stealing their catches, Nanaue faces a choice – stay with his mother on land or take to the sea. He leaps into the ocean to escape his pursuers, and is reunited with his father.

Simply told and briskly paced, The Shark King keeps the pages turning while shifting from action to mystery to humor. Readers will be curious of what becomes of young Nanaue.

The artwork is bold and stylized, with exaggerated action that brings to mind golden-age comic artwork. Johnson occasionally gets creative with panels, subtly adding visual interest. Will kids dig it? I think so.

A few years into their glorious easy-to-read comics experiment, one thing has become clear – one never can predict what TOON Books will come out with next, and they never seem to be satisfied with hitting autopilot. The Shark King is another unique entry into the TOON Books catalog and one that is worth your time. Well done.

Review copy from the publisher

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About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Wait until you see The Secret of the Stone Frog coming this September: http://bit.ly/JZR8CL.