This Saturday, 15 kids sat in a circle, all eyes on the sharks. But this was no aquarium – we were at Greenlight Book Store in Brooklyn and the sharks in question were inside R. Kikuo Johnson’s children’s book The Shark King.
Johnson’s illustrations seemed to leap off the page as he read his dynamic Hawaiian tale for Greenlight’s weekend story time. The reading section was full by 11 am.
Children and parents sat cross-legged and wide-eyed on the floor, as the award-winning cartoonist narrated the adventures of Nanaue, part boy and part shark, as he finds his place among the tropical shores.
“SNAP SNAP,” read Johnson turning the page.
A small girl exclaimed, “Oh Look!” pointing at the book with excitement and awe.
After the reading, colored markers and paper were passed around to the eager audience members. Taking the lead, Johnson moved to the children’s sized easel and demonstrated how to draw a shark. Following along line-by-line, children and parents created their own. As the budding artists used their imaginations round, square, and multi-colored sharks appeared around the room.
But Johnson wasn’t finished yet! With eager requests from his young fans, Johnson, with a few artist tips up his sleeve. drew his main character Nanaue. How do you make Nanaue look scared? “Just a few straight lines and a drop of sweat dripping down his face.” Easy. Or at least Johnson makes it look what way.
Among the excited and eager fans, one reserved young boy stood out. Was he perhaps, a Shark King himself? He sat with his parents and brother, rapt by the story and engrossed in his drawing.
When it came time to meet Johnson, the boy was suddenly shy. Leaning up against his father, the boy was quiet when Johnson smiled and offered his hand. His parents spoke for him, telling Johnson it was the boy’s fifth birthday today and they were there because the Shark King was the boy’s favorite book. Still, the boy remained silent as Johnson signed the book and wished him a happy birthday. It was only when his parents teased him by asking, “Is the great white the fastest shark?” that the boy piped up. “No! It’s the shortfin mako!” he said.
His secret identity had been revealed. The boy was clearly a Shark King himself. In fact, the theme of his birthday party the very next day? You guessed it. The Shark King.
But Johnson had more than just one Shark King fan; Greenlight sold out of every copy.