Allison's Book Bag

Shark King by Kikuo Johnson

Posted on: April 13, 2013

Shark King by Kikuo Johnson disappointed me with its simple text and muted color palette. Perhaps this is just a matter of my not being part of the target audience, which is emerging and reluctant readers. However, only one of my group of struggling readers showed any interest in Shark King—and then just as a second choice.

In contrast, out of the stack of graphic novels that I picked to read with my students this month, Shark King had originally most attracted me. Why? Because it had two points in its favor, being based on a myth and being from Hawaii. From my earliest years, I’ve devoured everything about myths, legends, or folklore. It doesn’t matter what form it takes, traditional, modern, or twisted. Yet most of my reading is of Canadian or European tales, which meant one from Hawaii doubly attracted me. Shark King is about a shape-shifting god who falls in love with and marries a human woman. Many cultures have such stories. What makes this version different is that it is mostly about the child who results from this supernatural coupling.

So what happened? Well, then I actually read Shark King. According to the inside of the back cover, its reading level is aimed at emerging readers and as such follows these guidelines: 300-600 words, short sentences and repetition, and a story arc with few characters in a small world. Granted, should I feel moved to analyze them, there are picture books which I love that probably fit within these constrictions. What can I tell you? They possess an adorability factor that Shark King doesn’t. Only once did Shark King make me laugh: When Nanaue discovers an appetite for fish, it grows from a fish to an eel to an octopus. And even then, he’s still hungry! Other books like Zita Girl, a graphic novel which I reviewed earlier this month, also possess a depth that Shark King doesn’t. According to Toon Books, Johnson had apparently been quite taken with the Shark King myth and wished to use it to explore the father-son relationship. But Nanaue barely spends anytime with him. There aren’t enough quiet moments between Nanaue and anyone else either.


The story of Shark King does make for a sufficient adventure and will no doubt entertain the one student of mine who wants to read it. But, will he remember it? I suspect that for him Shark King will simply blur into a memory of bland stories that he had to read at school. And I want more for his reading experience, and mine, and yours. So, it’s onto the next graphic novel!

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

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