Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Unsinkable Walker Bean

Let me start by stating that I was a slow convert to graphic novels, but the captivating artwork and stories of great First Second titles like American Born Chinese and Robot Dreams, as well as Random House's, Stone Rabbit, and Atheneum's Amelia Rules have won me over. I've become a fan of graphic nonfiction as well, with Gettysburg, Zeus: King of the Gods, and the 9/11 Report topping my list of nonfiction favorites.

Advance Reader Copy

Reinier, Aaron. 2010. The Unsinkable Walker Bean. New York: First Second (:01).

Walker Bean's is a seafaring family.  His grandfather and father are members of the navy. Walker is a young inventor who has been regaled by his grandfather with legend and song of an ancient and prescient skull that resides at the bottom of the ocean, guarded by two aquatic beasts. Walker is thrust into a dangerous adventure when his grandfather finds and then succumbs to the accursed skull; and is then double-crossed by Walker's father who seeks to gain from its unusual powers and value.  Walker must unravel the mystery of the legend to save his grandfather's life.  With the help of Shiv, a young pirate deckhand and grudging assistance from the girl, Genoa, a fearless pirate, Walker embarks on a remarkable and dangerous journey to return the skull to its beastly owners.

The dark colors of The Unsinkable Walker Bean (chosen by colorist Alec Longstreth from a limited palette inspired by old, richly colored, but faded picture books) are a complement to its dark and dangerous story line. Only Walker's blond hair and the crisply inked dialogue stand out immediately from each panel.  Other details emerge slowly from the dark holds of ships, the night skies, and the depths of the ocean.  Sketches of plans, inventions, charts, and musical notation add depth to Aaron Reinier's detailed illustrations and story. Panels per page are varied from a single, double-spread rendition of a fiery confrontation at sea to an action-packed page of ten panels.

The story of The Unsinkable Walker Bean takes as many tacks as a ship sailing upwind. Enemies become friends and new dangers emerge as Walker follows the ever-changing course his grandfather began, traveling by pirate ship to remote islands and dockside shantytowns. The multiple story lines of Walker's quest, Genoa's strange behavior, the duplicity of Walker's father, and the motivation of a mysterious doctor, combine with the supernatural Merwitch sisters of the deep, to create a complex story rich in details - even including a fabled language written in runic characters.  The breakneck pace of action may have readers may scrambling back through the pages to re-examine a scene, but seaworthy or time-tested graphic novel fans will likely take it all in stride.  For everyone else, it's all part of the high seas, high stakes adventure of The Unsinkable Walker Bean.

Rumored to be part of a trilogy, Walker Bean leaves plenty of questions to be answered in future installments
Due out in August 2010. 
Ideal for 5th - 8th grade.
(I won this copy of The Unsinkable Walker Bean from First Second Publishing while participating in a Booklist webinar, "Let's Get Graphic: Kids' Comics in Classroom and Libraries"  Click if you're interested in viewing the archived webinar. It's about 1 hour.) 

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